The latest news: In our last update, we told you that Stillwater County had informed us that we achieved over 60% of required landowner signatures within our proposed Citizen Initiated Zoning District (CIZD), but that the County had asked the Montana State Attorney General (AG) to issue an opinion on whether mineral rights holders should be included in the 60% calculation.
After the Montana State AG declined to issue an opinion, Stillwater County Attorney Nancy Rohde told us that she still stood by her opinion and that she had advised the Commissioners to seek a second opinion, which she thought might take a few weeks. After waiting two weeks, we directed our attorney to send a letter expressing our increasing frustration with the County’s lack of action on the Petition and urging the county to follow the CIZD statute without further delay. Eventually, Ms. Rohde advised the County Clerk & Recorder that in her opinion we had not achieved the needed 60% because mineral right owners were not included.
As a result, the Clerk & Recorder sent a letter to the Commissioners stating that our CIZD petition did not meet the 60% requirement. In a telling omission, she did not state the exact percentage we had achieved, as required by County procedure. At that time, the Commissioners placed the Clerk’s letter on their January 30th, weekly agenda as a file item, moved to accept it, which they did 3-0, and then washed their hands of the CIZ petition. Four SPA Oil and Gas committee members attended this meeting and presented their concerns of such an action by the Commissioners, but their efforts and comments fell on deaf ears.
The Commissioners have also introduced a policy for future CIZ petitions which requires mineral interests to be included within the 60% calculation. In essence it is not a policy, but a move to block landowners from exercising their rights. The Commissioners may adopt the policy at a meeting on March 6.
Our next steps: We reluctantly decided to start a legal action against the County. We did not want litigation, which will be expensive to both the landowners and the County, but (1) the County is ignoring the will of the landowners of Stillwater County within the proposed district and (2) we believe that including mineral interests in the 60% calculation is wrong and would make the CIZ statute impossible for landowners to use. We will file a legal action to preserve the rights of Montana landowners to join together to create CIZ districts to protect their property and their ways of life.
- What you can do:
1. Stay current, things are happening quickly right now! We are getting good press exposure in the Stillwater County News (SCN). If you do not subscribe to this weekly newspaper that publishes every Thursday, start checking it out on the web. Here’s the link to coverage we received on Feb. 8, which consisted of front page coverage by a SCN reporter, and 2 Op-Ed letters – http://www.stillwatercountynews.com/letters-editor . Also, if you have not subscribed to a blog by David Katz, a member of our committee, do so. Here’s his link – Beartooth Front zone update: Stillwater Commissioners turn their backs on locals who pay their salaries; support unknown outsiders .
- Please write your own Op-Ed letters! We will provide help and a list of area newspapers where you can send them. For help, simply reach out to us via email – email@example.com
- We are in the process of creating a legal entity (the Beartooth Front Coalition) that will be a plaintiff in our legal suit against Stillwater County. We’ll let you know when it has been created. For those of you who recently contributed to SPA in support of our legal campaign, thank you! Please know that those funds and more will be transferred to the new entity to support and fund our legal and information efforts. In the meantime, SPA continues to accept and provide funding for this effort. If you have not done so already, please contribute by sending a check made out to SPA and with notation ‘funds intended to support the Beartooth Front Coalition’. The address is: Stillwater Protective Association, PO Box 106, Absarokee, MT 59001.
Thank you for your continued support!
Co-CIZD Committee Chairs