BfP and its partners prevail in second successful lawsuit against DEQ

Bitterrooters for Planning, the Bitterroot River Protective Association and the Montana Environmental Information Center joined forces and sued the Montana Department of Environmental Quality for failing to protect Montana’s water quality when it allowed degradation of ground and surface water in the Grantsdale Addition subdivision. The Lewis and Clark County District Court recently found in favor of BfP and our partners, and voided the DEQ decision.
As you might remember, Gratnsdale Addition was a 181-unit residential subdivision on 70 acres at the corner of Grantsdale Cut-Off Road and Skalkaho Road. The wastewater runoff from a subdivision of this size and complexity would have had dire impacts to the river we know and love.
It’s another big court victory for BfP! And another loss for DEQ. which hopefully will take to heart its duty to protect water quality rather than make it easier for polluters to damage our waters.

And thanks to all BfP’s supporters, those who gave testimony and ground troops for help with this successful lawsuit!

Read the entire document below
Read more…Grantsdale-Addition-ruling.pdf

BfP charges state with violating water quality laws, prevails in lawsuit

Greetings,
Below is the Press Release for Blood Lane – Bitterrooters for Planning (BfP) prevails in lawsuit.
Bitterrooters for Planning prevailed in its lawsuit against the Montana Department of Environmental Quality in the so-called “Blood Lane” case. You may recall this as the Wal-Mart case. Realtor Lee Foss had applied to DEQ for – and was granted – a wastewater discharge permit for the property at Blood Lane and Hwy. 93. The long standing rumor was that the permit was actually for a Wal-Mart, though that was never more than an unconfirmed rumor. Apparently (and incredibly) DEQ didn’t even know the identity of the actual operator of the permit. You’ll read a small reference to that in the attached court order. I’ve also attached the press release I sent out last night to local newspapers and print reporters.

Bitterrooters for Planning continues to advocate for sensible land use laws through public acceptance of a growth policy, and we will continue to shine a light on the falseness.
Next post will be “Court order in BfP and BRPA vs. DEQ.”

Read the entire document below
Read more…PRESS-RELEASE-BLOOD-LANE.pdf

Court order in BfP and BRPA vs. DEQ

Greetings,
Below is the Court order in BfP and BRPA vs. DEQ. In the post prior to this one, you can see the Press Release for the Blood Lane case.
Bitterrooters for Planning prevailed in its lawsuit against the Montana Department of Environmental Quality in the so-called “Blood Lane” case. You may recall this as the Wal-Mart case. Realtor Lee Foss had applied to DEQ for – and was granted – a wastewater discharge permit for the property at Blood Lane and Hwy. 93. The long standing rumor was that the permit was actually for a Wal-Mart, though that was never more than an unconfirmed rumor. Apparently (and incredibly) DEQ didn’t even know the identity of the actual operator of the permit. You’ll read a small reference to that in the attached court order. I’ve also attached the press release I sent out last night to local newspapers and print reporters.

Bitterrooters for Planning continues to advocate for sensible land use laws through public acceptance of a growth policy, and we will continue to shine a light on the falseness.

Read the entire document below
Read more…BLOOD-LANE-Order-on-Judicial-Review-5-16-16.pdf

Panel discussion April 19, Tuesday night, 7 p.m. at Lee Metcalf NWR in Stevi

In an effort to be proactive when it comes to planning, BfP is sponsoring a panel discussion April 19, Tuesday night, 7 p.m. at the Lee Metcalf Wildlife Refuge in Stevensville, MT. The Montana Department of Transportation has a multi-million dollar improvement plan in place for the Eastside Highway between Eight Mile Creek Road and Wildfowl Lane. The department is not, however, considering either wildlife crossings or bike paths. We believe that to be shortsighted in view of the facts that the Eastside Highway rates as one of the top 10 most dangerous roads in Montana, with wildlife collisions a major factor in that rating; and with the 40th anniversary of the Bikecentennial coming up this summer. We can expect thousands of bicyclists riding through the valley, which will only increase the focus on the Bitterroot for cyclists in the years to come.

We believe the money is available for both wildlife crossings and bike paths. What’s missing is the political will. That’s where we all come in. We hope you can make this panel discussion on April 19. Though putting political pressure on the decision makers is always a time-consuming effort, it’s easier and cheaper to do things right the first time than to come back later and try to repair shortsighted projects.

            PRESS RELEASE

The Eastside Highway is due for significant repairs in the north valley. That provides an opportunity for citizens to weigh in on two crucial transportation amenities that may get overlooked in the planning process.

The Montana Department of Transportation proposes to widen the Eastside Highway and construct left-turn lanes from the new roundabout at Eightmile Creek Road south to Ambrose Lane. These repairs are necessary for a road that rates as one of the 10 worst for crashes in Montana.

Unfortunately, MDOT is not, at this time, considering adding bike paths or wildlife crossings in its design.

Bitterrooters for Planning is working to ensure that bike paths and wildlife crossings will ultimately be included in the final road design.

To that end, BfP will sponsor a public discussion on Eastside Highway improvements on April 19, from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Lee Metcalf Wildlife Refuge conference room. This discussion will feature a panel of speakers representing highway engineers, wildlife conservationists, bicyclists and civic organizations.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the 1976 Bikecentennial, and thousands of bicyclists from around the country and the world will be riding through the valley. This anniversary ride is expected to focus attention on the Bitterroot Valley, which will bring even more bicyclists in coming years.

Wildlife crossings are another critical element of transportation design and planning, and are essential for the safety of wildlife and motorists alike.

A bike path along the Eastside Highway near the Lee Metcalf Wildlife Refuge, and adequate wildlife crossings make sense for the future, but the planning should begin now.

Please plan on attending and make your voice heard.

Court awards legal fees in Legacy Ranch lawsuit to B4P

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Jim Rokosch
546-6129
777-2511
jrokosch@cybernet1.com

Court awards legal fees in Legacy Ranch lawsuit to Bitterrooters for Planning for the group’s efforts to “guard the guardians”

A District Court has awarded legal fees to Bitterrooters for Planning following a land development lawsuit the non-profit organization brought against the board of Ravalli County Commissionersin 2013.
The award of legal fees comes in the wake of BfP’s successful Legacy Ranch development lawsuit. The court voided the commissioners’ approval of the 659-unit residential and commercial development planned near the Lee Metcalf Wildlife Refuge in Stevensville last year. BfP subsequently petitioned the court for legal fees in that case.
The court noted that BfP’s “unrelenting efforts to participate in the public process to try to convince the Commissioners that the Legacy Ranch 30-year phasing build out proposal constituted illegal public policy was thoroughly meritorious.”
BfP argued that forcing a non-profit organization to incur substantial litigation costs when the government fails to enforce public benefit laws creates a substantial injustice, and the court agreed. The court also agreed with BfP that “the Commissioners should pay for their own failure to prepare an adequate EA” and for “approving a near four decade build out in direct violation of Montana law.”
Referring to the state constitutional guarantee of a clean and healthful environment, the court ruled that BfP sued the county commissioners “to vindicate public participation rights and public policy interests applicable to all Montana’s citizens. No other entity, public or private, showed a willingness to hold the Commissioners accountable under the law. The burden of this enforcement action fell squarely and solely on the shoulders of BfP.”
The lawsuit sends a strong message to all Montana county governments to take a hard look at the public health and environmental impacts of land developments, said BfP Executive Director Jim Rokosch. “Citizen voices matter”, he said, “and in this case, the commissioners dogged adherence to their misguided view of private property rights continues to rack up costs to taxpayers.”
“This is a wake up call, not only for governments, but for citizens as well,” he added. “Every right we have comes with a responsibility, and that responsibility requires citizens to maintain a clean and healthful environment and to participate in the decision-making processes of our governments.”
Quoting from the court order, Rokosch said it is incumbent upon private citizens to exercise their citizenship by engaging in public policy decisions in order to “guard the guardians”. He added, “Citizens empower government officials to guard the public’s interests and the public trust. When those officials abuse that trust, they need to be taken to task. As Thomas Jefferson told us many years ago, “The price of liberty is eternal vigilance””.
BfP members volunteered many years and thousands of hours, and invested significant funds to bring evidence to the county commissioners about the illegality of Legacy Ranch as proposed before filing the lawsuit.
BfP, a non-profit member organization established in 1995, works for common sense land use laws, and keeping government officials accountable to those laws.

Read the entire document below
Read more…OPINIONANDORDER-ATTORNEYFEES.pdf

Appeal Answer Briefs Merit

This brief was filed in support of the Court’s October 2014 ruling by: Bitterrooters for Planning, Bitterroot River Protective Association, Future West, Montana Audubon, Montana Environmental Information Center, Montana Smart Growth Coalition, Northern Plains Resource Council, and Stillwater Protective Association.
This brief discusses the history of the Water Use Act, found in article IX, section 3 (4) of the Montana Constitution, and the Department of Natural Resource and Conservation’s rulemaking that implemented the Water Use Act.
The Water Use Act provides for the administration, control and regulation of Montana’s water resources by, among other things, establishing a permit system for new appropriation of water. Specifically, the Act requires a permit for new appropriations of water producing less than 35 gallons per minute and 10 acre feet per year. An applicant for a new appropriation of water must prove the water is legally and physically available; that the use is beneficial; and that the new appropriation will not adversely affect senior water rights.
In 1993, the DNRC changed the rule for the permitting of new wells and established a new rule, which allowed large consumptive water users to drill multiple wells without having to apply for a permit. There was no public hearing on this rule change, nor did DNRC explain why the rule change was necessary. Normally, a court would defer to the agency, but in this case, DNRC provided no findings of fact to justify the rule change.
This new rule allows for large consumptive water users to bypass the Water Use Act’s permitting requirement and to do so without addressing the adverse impacts to senior water rights; and places the burden of protecting senior water rights on the water rights holder, who receives no notice of the new appropriation, instead of on the applicant seeking a new water right.
The only opposition has come from the three groups that stand to benefit financially from keeping the 1993 rule in place: the Montana Well Drillers, the Montana Association of Realtors and the Montana Building Industry Association.

Read the entire document below
Read more…Appeal.Answer.Brief_.Merits.FINAL_.FILED_.Jan_.15.2016.pdf

MLCT Amicus Brief

This brief was filed by the Montana League of Cities and Towns in support of the Court’s ruling.
In this brief, the MLCT makes the argument that Montana municipalities supply drinking water to Montana’s citizens, and they hold water rights to that resource.
Encouraging residential development without requiring a water permit jeopardizes Montana cities’ and towns’ continued ability to exercise their historic water rights in the order of priority to which they are constitutionally entitled. Montana municipalities are the primary providers of drinking water for Montana citizens. Of the ten largest communities in Montana, only Missoula does not supply domestic uses from a city-owned water utility.
The vast majority of Montana businesses large and small receive water for business and industrial uses from municipal water systems. Montana municipalities have senior rights for their municipal water systems in both ground and surface water. A proliferation of unpermitted exempt wells can adversely affect both kinds of municipal rights, either by drawing down aquifers in which municipal ground water rights exist or by reducing groundwater migration to surface waters in which municipalities hold rights.
The MLCT also makes the observation that exempt wells and individual septic systems go together. Since exempt wells require no permit, the proliferation of individual septic systems come on the heels of exempt wells, which places a heavy burden on municipalities for increasingly expensive water treatment systems.

Read the entire document below
Read more…MLCT-Amicus-Brief-optimized.pdf

Exempt Well Order

In October 2014, a Montana District Court judge invalidated an administrative rule regarding a legal loophole known as the “exempt well rule.” This rule has long been in need of invalidation. You can read the court order below, but to summarize, the exempt well rule has been exploited for many years by land developers, and has conflicted with the Montana Water Use Law that requires permits for appropriation of water. The administrative exempt well rule allows land developers to drill as many individual wells as their developments require without having to go through the permit process, making these numerous wells exempt from a necessary permitting process.
The Legislature makes the laws and the state agencies make the administrative rules to implement those laws. In the case of exempt wells, the state Department of Natural Resources and Conservation adopted a rule exempting wells from the permitting process and from public notice. The court ruled that the DNRC rule conflicted with the state law.
Consequently, thousands of residential wells have been drilled in Montana with no oversight, no protection for senior water rights holders and no way to determine how those wells are affecting surface water flows and groundwater availability.
“Exempt wells are being used for large, relatively dense subdivision development in closed basins,” according to the court order posted here. “Exempt wells are not reviewed by DNRC and are not subject to public notice,” the court stated.
As of 2008, there were more than 100,000 exempt wells in Montana. By 2020, the DNRC estimates that 32,000 to 78,000 additional exempt wells would be drilled under the exempt well rule. Of concern are the cumulative impacts of all these non-permitted wells to groundwater levels and surface water flows.
When the court invalidated the exempt well rule, it told the DNRC to go back to its original rule that required permits for new wells. But the court also left the door open for further rule making to clarify a confusing conflict between law and administrative rule.
It’s telling that, although the DNRC lost the legal issue before the court, it did not appeal the ruling. Instead, several interveners, including the Montana Well Drillers Association, Montana Association of Realtors and the Montana Building Association, did file an appeal to the Montana Supreme Court.
This appeal grabbed the attention of a number of non-profit advocacy organizations around the state, including Bitterrooters for Planning, Bitterroot River Protective Association, Stillwater Protective Association, Montana Trout Unlimited, Citizens for a Better Flathead, the Montana League of Cities and Towns, Montana Audubon, the Montana Smart Growth Coalition, and the original petitioner in the case, the Clark Fork Coalition. All working towards the same goal of supporting the District Court’s order invalidating the exempt well rule, these groups filed amicus curiae, or friend of the court, briefs petitioning the Montana Supreme Court to uphold the lower court decision.
The amicus briefs were filed in January 2016. A hearing date before the Supreme Court has not been set.

Read the entire document below
Read more…OrderExemptWells101714-optimized.pdf

Public speaking event -Fire ecologist George Wuerthner to discuss wildfire behavior and how fires threaten homes.

Bitterrooters for Planning will host photographer, writer and ecologist George Wuerthner for a discussion of wildfire ecology and management policy at 7 p.m. Oct. 26 at the Bedfod Building in Hamilton. – PLEASE SHARE!
Wuerthner, the ecological projects director at Foundation for Deep Ecology, has authored over two dozen books on wildfires, natural history and the environment. He has visited more than 380 wilderness areas, nearly 200 national parks and every national forest west of the Mississippi River.
Wuerthner will discuss wildfire management and how forest fires threaten homes in the wildland urban interface, including:
· Whether thinning and prescribed burns are really effective means of controlling wildfires
· Extreme weather conditions and how they foster intense wildfires
· How houses threatened by wildfire put out more heat than forest fires
· How to best protect your home from wildfire by reducing the flammability of the area immediately surrounding the structure – not by logging the forest
Following the smoky summer in the Bitterroot Valley, this discussion will be a timely exploration of wildfire’s potential impact on forest ecosystems, wildlife, air quality, recreational opportunities in valuable wild areas and your home.
The event is free and open to the public. The Bedford Building is located at 223 S. 2nd St. in Hamilton.

B4P Update as of September 17, 2015

Recently, a BfP member asked several questions regarding our three lawsuits: Legacy Ranch which, as you know, we won, and the two still pending: Grantsdale Addition and Blood Lane (Wal-Mart). I thought I’d send out the answers to the entire membership, post on Facebook and the website.

Q: When will there be a decision regarding the B4P request to have the (Grantsdale Addition) permit voided (as noted in the August 15 posting “Update on Grantsdale groundwater discharge permit”).

A: Oral arguments are scheduled for Sept. 24 in Helena. The case was filed in Lewis and Clark County because the defendant in the case, Department of Environmental Quality, is based there. Oral arguments are scheduled for 2 p.m. Several board members will likely be there, and members, of course, are invited and encouraged to attend.

Q: What is the status of the Blood Lane issue?  Has the court process begun?

Oral arguments are scheduled for 9 a.m. on Nov. 23, again in Helena, for the same reason as above.

Q: And is it truly the end of Legacy Ranch since the July 31 court ruling that nullified county approval of it?  And will the county have to pay B4P’s court costs since they lost?

A: The county commission has met twice since the court decision to discuss the possibility of an appeal, but they’ve made no decision. The developers, Sunnyside Orchards, LLC, were also defendants in the case, but they have not filed an appeal. I believe this ends the case. Of course, if we hear anything different you’ll know right away.

The question regarding fees is more complicated. Court fees are not automatically awarded to the prevailing party in a civil case. The prevailing party’s attorney must petition the court for fees, but can do so only under certain circumstances. Here is the pertinent sentence from the petition: “An award of fees is appropriate when litigants serve the public interest by holding government bodies accountable to statutes that vindicate important public rights.”

Our attorney filed a petition for fees in August, but no court hearing date has been scheduled as of yet. I’ve attached the petition to this email, so you can read it for yourself. When we know more, we’ll let the membership know.

Thank you for your questions.
Carlotta Grandstaff for BfP
Read more…Grantsdale-Pls-Response-Brief-final.pdf