Beartooth Front landowners win first round of lawsuit

Judge Jones

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.

Local landowners showed up in force at the hearing in Columbus on July 26.

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.

Related reading:
Beartooth Front landowners present hundreds of signatures to Stillwater County Commissioners to set up oil and gas zoning district (with video)
Do mineral rights have anything to do with citizen-initiated zoning in Montana?
BREAKING: Beartooth Front landowners file legal action against Stillwater Commissioners
Latest developments in the Beartooth Front Coalition lawsuit against the County
Landowners show up for hearing on Beartooth Front lawsuit

Media coverage of Beartooth Coalition Front lawsuit

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.

News Coverage
March 7 – Preserve the Beartooth Front, Stillwater residents give Commissioners an earful on proposed policy (video)
“As you would expect, people took the opportunity to express their indignation, not only about the proposed policy, but about the pattern of excuses, inaction, and delay that had brought them to this point.”

March 6 – Last Best News, Residents pan county’s proposed zoning guidelines
by Linda Halstead-Acharya
“Bill Peterson of Nye …pointed out what seemed obvious to everyone present. ‘I thought it was interesting that there were no proponents, he said.” Continue reading “Media coverage of Beartooth Coalition Front lawsuit”