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Briefs: Food waste reduction; College testing; Missoula airport

Airport terminal

State governments receive funding to expand composting and food waste reduction projects
Montana Public Radio | By Edward F. O'Brien

Local governments in Montana are receiving federal money to expand composting and food waste reduction projects.

Twenty-three states will divvy up nearly $12 million to help reduce food waste and produce compost.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture funds are supporting three projects in Montana. One would build on Helena’s existing green waste composting project, where the city annually diverts over 2,000 tons of trees, grass clippings and leaves from the local landfill.

The funding will also expand compost, local food waste and recovery projects in Gallatin and Butte Silver-Bow counties. That means more perishable food that is safe and edible will be recovered and sent to food banks.

Specific funding amounts for Montana were not included in Monday’s announcement.

The selected projects will run through 2026.

Montana's education agency looks for a new way to pay for the ACT exam
Montana Public Radio | By Austin Amestoy

Montana’s K-12 education agency is looking for a new way to pay for a major college readiness exam.

The Commissioner of Higher Education will no longer fund the ACT exam statewide after this year.

That calls into question how the state will pay for the test that has long served as a college readiness benchmark for high school juniors.

Commission office spokesperson Galen Hollenbaugh said federal grant rules forced the office to stop paying for the ACT. Now it will be up to the Office of Public Instruction to find a new way to fund it.

“It’s not like we won’t still be looking and assisting with them, but the statewide assessment is OPI’s testing,” Hollenbaugh said. “They’re in control of it; we’ve just been helping with the funding.”

Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen said the test will be administered this spring and next year as planned. Arntzen hasn’t indicated how the state intends to cover the nearly $720,000 it costs to administer the exam after that.

Montana’s state universities recently dropped the ACT as a requirement for admission, but the test is still widely used as a benchmark for scholarships, program entry and at other colleges nationwide.

It’s also been required in Montana as part of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act since 2015.

Missoula airport sets a new passenger record in 2023
Montana Public Radio | By Edward F. O'Brien

Missoula’s airport set a new passenger record in 2023 and officials expect another strong showing this year.

Over 913,000 passengers passed through the gates at Missoula International Airport last year.

According to airport Director Brian Ellestad, that’s a 9% jump over 2022’s total and almost 1% over the airport’s previous record set in 2019.

“Obviously during the pandemic people wanted to do the ‘great outdoors.’ Montana is just a place where people want to go. I think that has a large reason to do with our growth,” Ellestad said.

Ellestad said Denver followed by Seattle are the most popular destinations out of Missoula’s airport.

Airport officials anticipate 2024 will bring yet another passenger record. In Ellestad’s words, “success brings more success,” meaning airlines are willing to provide more and bigger airplanes to airports, drawing lots of passenger traffic.

The Missoula airport is amid a project to expand ticketing, screening and boarding facilities.

Meanwhile, dense fog is creating difficult flying conditions this week into Missoula.

One plane was able to land by late Tuesday afternoon with at least eight others getting diverted.

Weather forecasters say strong valley inversions and more dense freezing fog is possible through at least Wednesday.

Edward O’Brien first landed at Montana Public Radio three decades ago as a news intern while attending the UM School of Journalism. He covers a wide range of stories from around the state.  
(406) 243-4065
Austin graduated from the University of Montana’s journalism program in May 2022. He came to MTPR as an evening newscast intern that summer, and jumped at the chance to join full-time as the station’s morning voice in Fall 2022.

He is best reached by emailing
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