Judge Blair Jones issued his first ruling today in the lawsuit Beartooth Front Coalition et al. vs. Board of Commissioners, Stillwater County. In the ruling he denied the County’s motion for dismissal of the case. The Beartooth Front landowners are suing the County because they believe the County unfairly denied their petition to establish a zone that would regulate oil and gas development along the Beartooth Front.
The County had argued that Montana state law preempts the county from regulating oil and gas drilling because that function is reserved by state law for the Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation.
The landowners argued that this motion is not “ripe” for consideration because there is no zone or regulations yet, so it is impossible to say whether any regulations are legal. Further, they strongly argued that there are many ways in which local governments are allowed to, and in fact do, regulate oil and gas activity.
Judge Jones considered only the first argument, ruling that this was sufficient to determine that the issue is not ripe for consideration by the court, and dismissed the County’s motion.
This is only the first round in what is expected to be a long fight, and much is yet to be determined. Kim Williams, the landowners’ attorney, has indicated the next step is for the Beartooth Front Coalition to file their own motion for summary judgment, based on their key argument in the case: that the County’s refusal to consider the petition because it included only the signatures of surface real property owners and not minerals owners is not only counter to the County’s own procedures, but contrary to Montana law.
According to Williams, that motion will be filed later this month.
You can find all public documents related to this case, as well as updates on the case, at the Beartooth Front Coalition website.
The efforts of landowners in southern Stillwater County to guarantee long-term protection of their land has generated a lot of media coverage locally and across Montana over the last several weeks. The reason is clear — the landowners’ lawsuit against the County has long-term implications not only locally, but for landowner rights across the State.
In addition to this coverage, local residents deluged the Commissioners with dozens of letters opposing their position on citizen-initiated zoning.
This post provides links to published articles and letters.
Three leases in the Beartooth Foothills will not be put up for sale as planned next week, the BLM announced today. The parcels were scheduled to be part of an online auction on March 13.
The BLM had proposed offering 109 parcels covering nearly 63,500 acres in an online auction to be held March 12 and 13. The scattered parcels stretch across Central Montana from the Canadian border to the Wyoming state line. The BLM has decided to defer the rights to explore for oil and gas on 26 parcels and on a portion of two additional parcels, totaling about 17,300 acres. These parcels are located near the city of Livingston, and in the foothills surrounding the Absaroka and Beartooth mountain ranges in Montana.Three parcels, totaling about 2100 acres, were part of the planned auction. All were in southern Stillwater County. Continue reading “BLM will not sell oil and gas leases in Stillwater County next week”→
Today the Beartooth Front Coalition (BFC) and other individual landowners filed a legal action against the Stillwater County Commissioners and the County Clerk and Recorder. The suit was a response to the County’s rejection of the BFC’s petition to establish a citizen-initiated zone.
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.Continue reading “Petitioner update”→