Judge sides with opponents of proposed Creston water bottling plantNews Type: State Source: KPAX
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KALISPELL – New developments could put a roadblock in a Creston landowner’s quest to open and operate a water-bottling plant.
A Flathead County judge has sided with area landowners seeking to expand their zoning district to protect it from industrial use.
Attorneys argued their points in Flathead County District Court last month, questioning the three county commissioner’s denial of a citizen’s petition to create an expanded zone in the Egan Slough area, a step which might have blocked Montana Artesian Water Company.
District Court Judge Robert Allison overturned the commissioner’s decision on Tuesday and remanded it back to them.
Judge Allison said the public comments were overwhelmingly in favor of the petition in his ruling, adding that community concerns that the plant would be detrimental to the area ranged from preservation of agricultural land to tourism to Flathead County’s growth policy and property values.
“The board cut off many of these comments. Yet the board then used the property rights of the Weavers to use their land as they see fit as part of the basis for their rationale,” Judge Allison said. “It is an abuse of discretion to consider the property rights of one landowner to the exclusion of other landowners, and the county overall.”
Supporters of the suit believe county residents should vote on the question of protecting the slough from industrial use, preserving farmland and wildlife habitat.
“We are very pleased with it and we are happy that the judge recognized the county commissioners need to evaluate the testimony and the information that was in front of them by petitioners and the public, as well as the county’s growth policy,” said Kim Wilson, an attorney for the plaintiffs.
Voters in Flathead County will face the zoning district expansion in a June 5 ballot measure initiated by the organization Yes for Flathead Farms and Water.
Meanwhile, at the state-level, Water for Flathead’s Future and the Flathead Lakers are asking a Lewis & Clark County judge to review the state’s decision approving permits for Montana Artesian.
The Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation upheld a decision in January to grant a water use permit to Montana Artesian Water Company owner Lew Weaver.
The company worked for more than two years to get state approval for the plant which would draw water underneath a slough area along the Flathead River near Creston.
The company wants to be able to pull the equivalent of more than a billion regular bottles of water using wells tapping into the groundwater every year, more than 230 million gallons.
But Water for Flathead’s Future — a grassroots organization that formed following the controversial plant — challenged a preliminary water-use permit from the DNRC with a multi-day hearing in Kalispell.
Concerns arose about the company’s wells drawing down water supplies for surrounding properties and creating additional traffic in the rural area. The company argued those concerns were unfounded.
In late-January, the DNRC agreed and upheld their decision to grant Montana Artesian its permit, saying the company has proven the operation won’t degrade water quality.
In Flathead County District Court in late-February, a Summary Judgment hearing got underway to decide whether or not three Flathead County Commissioners abused their discretion when they denied the citizen’s petition to create a zone in the Egan Slough area south of Kalispell in 2016.
A decision from Judge Allison was expected by the end of March.