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Another victory for clean water in the Bitterroot Valley and Montana

Update to Members:
You may have read in the Bitterroot Star that the state Department of Environmental Quality has dropped its appeal to the Montana Supreme Court against Bitterrooters for Planning and our co-plaintiffs the Bitterroot River Protection Association and the Montana Environmental Center in the Grantsdale Addition lawsuit.

To recap briefly, the Grantsdale Addition subdivision at Skalkaho Road and Grantsdale Cut-Off (Bob Christ’s farm for all you old-time Bitterrooters), is a 181-unit residential subdivision. The effluent from it would have polluted the groundwater, which, through its hydrologic connection to the Bitterroot River and Skalkaho Creek, would have also increased contamination in those two water bodies. DEQ issued a groundwater discharge permit without considering this risk of contamination. BfP and our co-plaintiffs won the lawsuit in a Lewis and Clark District Court, and DEQ appealed to the state Supreme Court.
DEQ dropped it appeal when both sides agreed to a settlement, which, in our view, was another victory for water quality in our community. I’ve attached the settlement agreement to this message.

The result of the settlement is that the Lewis and Clark District Court ruling stands: the groundwater discharge permit was overturned and ruled invalid. If the developer resubmits the groundwater discharge permit to DEQ, then DEQ must conduct a more thorough analysis and take into account the cumulative impacts that effluent from 181 homes would have on the health of the Bitterroot River and Skalkaho Creek. Another important result of the ruling is that we established a connection between surface and ground water.

It’s a significant ruling and a significant victory not only for our own Bitterroot River and Skalkaho Creek, but it establishes a statewide precedent that DEQ must follow for all development projects that could impact Montana’s rivers and streams.
We don’t know at this point whether the developer plans to resubmit the groundwater discharge permit, but if so, DEQ will have to do the job we all assumed and hoped that it would do the first time: it will have to conduct an actual environmental analysis.

Bitterrooters for Planning will continue to monitor this project, because we take Article IX of the Montana Constitution seriously:
Section 1. Protection and improvement. (1) The state and each person shall maintain and improve a clean and healthful environment in Montana for present and future generations.
It can’t be stated enough.

Kirsten H. Bowers
Special Assistant Attorney General
Department of Environmental Quality
Legal Unit, Metcalf Building
1520 East Sixth Avenue
P.O. Box 200901
Helena, Montana 59620-0901
Tel: (406) 444-4222

Attorney for Respondent/Defendant
Montana Department of Environmental Quality

Jack Tuholske
Tuholske Law Office, P.C.
234 East Pine St.
P.O. Box 7458
Missoula, MT 59807

Attorney for Petitioners/Plaintiffs

INFORMATION CENTER, Inc., ) Cause No. CDV-2014-505
Plaintiffs and Petitioners, ) JUDGMENT)
v. )
) Presiding Judge
Defendant and Respondent )

On ______________________________, 2016, pursuant to a Stipulated Motion to Dismiss Appeal entered by and between the above-named parties, the Montana Supreme Court dismissed DEQ’s appeal, filed on September 7, 2016, of this Court’s Memorandum and Order on Motion to Strike and Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment entered as final Judgment on July 8, 2016, in the above-captioned case.
In accordance with the Stipulated Motion to Dismiss Appeal, DEQ’s appeal is fully and finally compromised and settled upon the District Court’s entry of the parties’ proposed Order Amending Judgment amending the July 8, 2016 Judgment as follows:
1. Plaintiffs’ Motion to Strike is granted;
2. Plaintiffs’ Motion for Summary Judgment is granted;
3. DEQ’s Motion for Summary Judgment is denied;
4. The issuance of Permit number MTX000163, effective May 1, 2014 (“the Permit”), is hereby declared invalid, and is remanded to DEQ for reconsideration of impacts to nearby surface waters including the Bitterroot River and Skalkaho Creek, cumulative impacts, and substantive information derived from public input relating to potential impacts on water quality resulting from the activity authorized by the Permit in accordance with Administrative Rules of Montana 17.30.715;
5. Upon receiving a complete re-application for the Permit, DEQ will take the application under consideration and determine, based on the administrative record related to the development and reissuance of the Permit on March 24, 2014 and any relevant new or additional information, whether the proposed discharge results in significant or nonsignificant changes to water quality in accordance with Administrative Rules of Montana 17.30.715 and this Stipulated Judgment;
6. DEQ will give public notice of its findings and provide direct written notice to each of the above-named Plaintiffs. If DEQ determines the proposed discharge results in nonsignificant changes to water quality, DEQ will make a tentative decision to issue the Permit and provide the public with notice and an opportunity to comment on the tentative decision to issue the Permit. If DEQ determines the proposed discharge results in significant changes to water quality and the permittee decides to proceed with the proposed discharge by submitting an application for authorization to degrade, DEQ will make a preliminary decision to deny or authorize degradation, provide public notice of its findings and direct written notice to Plaintiffs in accordance with § 75-5-303(4), Montana Code Annotated (MCA).
Respectfully submitted this ______________ day of November, 2016.

Montana Department of Environmental Quality

Kirsten H. Bowers
Attorney for Respondent/Defendant

Bitterrooters for Planning, Inc.;
Montana Environmental Information Center, Inc.; and Bitterroot River Protective Association, Inc.

Jack R. Tuholske
Attorney for Plaintiffs/Petitioners


I hereby certify that I have filed the foregoing STIPULATION TO AMEND JUDGMENT with the Clerk of the Montana First Judicial District Court, Lewis and Clark County and that I have served true and accurate copies of the foregoing STIPULATION TO AMEND JUDGMENT upon each attorney of record in the above-referenced action, as follows:

Tuholske Law Office, P.C.
234 East Pine St.
P.O. Box 7458
Missoula, MT 59807

By: _______________________________
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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
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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
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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
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Commissioner Foss enlists county supremacy radicals in effort to take over public land!

Every Bitterroter who believes in the value of public land should be outraged with this assault on America. Please make plans to attend BOTH meetings. All reasonable folks, regardless of political strip, need to come together and make sure these “county supremacy” ideas are returned to the trash heap of anti-American nonsense where they belong!

Transfer of Public Lands”USFS” to the States meeting December 11, 6:30 PM at the Eagles FOE 125 N. 2nd Hamilton, MT
On December 11, 2013 Utah State Rep. Ken Ivory will be in the Bitterroot for two meetings, one in the afternoon for elected officials and business owners to be educated and updated on the regional movement to transfer our public lands to state and local management. This meeting will be in BJs back room, 2 pm to 3:30pm. We have limited seating in this room.
That evening at 6:30 pm a public meeting will be held at the Eagles. This meeting will be well advertised and open to all….
The transfer of public lands, as contracted in our states Enabling Act is the ONLY way that is big enough, 100% constitutionally solid, and a workable solution to our public land multiple use issues. At least there has not been any other idea that has a positive US Supreme Court ruling that I am aware of.
If you are not yet familiar with the American Lands Council and their leadership in this movement please go to

Earlier this month several of us attended two invitation only conferences on the legal and ethical way to accomplish our goals for state and local management of our public lands. The Heritage Foundation out of Washington DC supports the TPL concept and hosted one of the meetings which were held in Park City, Utah.
Please RSVP if attending the afternoon meeting so we can plan the setup. We need to know by Dec. 9 at the latest. Again, this meeting is for elected officials and supporting interested parties as it is a chance to discuss legislative and county government policy. The evening meeting will be more general and an overview along with how individuals can get involved.
We are looking for sponsor organizations to both assist with some small funds needed to pay for our share of the airfare and room rental at the Eagles and some advertising for a total of $500. If your business or organization cannot help with some funding we still would like your support and if ok the use of your organization/business name to use in our advertising as supporting organizations. We want the public to have awareness of and access to the various groups working together to solve these management problems in a legal and responsible way. We need to pull together moving forward as there is strength in numbers and we are all looking toward a workable solution.
Please do not hesitate to pass this on to other organizations and individuals who might like to attend or be a sponsor. A supporting sponsor just lists your organizations name, for more space to give contact info and purpose a donation is appreciated.
Hope to see you all on the 11th of December!
Suzy Foss

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