Action alert: Stillwater County Planning Board meeting, Wed, 9/4, 7pm

The September meeting of the Stillwater County Planning Board will be held in Columbus on Wednesday, September 4 at the Stillwater County Pavilion (known as Little Metra) on the County Fairgrounds at 328 E. 5th Avenue North in Columbus.

This meeting will likely be a tough one for us, since we do not have a defined place on the agenda. We presented our draft regulations at the last meeting, and much of this meeting will be devoted to reaction to the regulations. This is why it is important for us to continue to come out in force for these meetings. This will be a long process, and we need to be out in front at every juncture.

Here is how you can be in action:

  1. Attend the meeting. Note the location. It is the same location as last month, but different from previous months.
  2. Speak in support of our efforts during the public comment period. Many of you are landowners, taxpayers and petition signers here in Stillwater County, and all of you are passionate about protecting this area.   We ask that you prepare comments as to why you support this effort and we request you to read them during the meeting to get them on the public record.  Please have a hard copy ready that you can hand into the Board Chair.  Doing so will balance any negative comments that might be made during the meeting and help Board members understand that there is overwhelming support for this zone!
  3. If you are not able to attend the meeting, please consider sending your prepared comments to Forrest Mandeville, the county planner. You can also copy the County Commissioners with your remarks.
    Dennis Shupak  dshupak@stillwatercountymt.gov
    Mark Crago  mcrago@stillwatercountymt.gov
    Ty Hamilton thamilton@stillwatercountymt.gov

Background material
Stillwater County Planning Board meeting: August 7, 2019

Stillwater County News: “Workable Framework” adopted for potential southern county zone
Action alert: Your attendance needed at Stillwater County Planning Board meeting, July 3, 2019
Action alert: New developments in landowner lawsuit against Stillwater County; what you can do to help – posted June 3, 2019

Materials presented at the June 5 Planning meeting:
Beartooth Front Zoning District Overview
Zoning District Map
Overview of Proposed Regulation

More information on the history of this landowner effort
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 zones in Montana?
Stillwater County Commissioners turn their backs on locals who pay their salaries; support unknown outsiders
Beartooth Front landowners file legal action against Stillwater County Commissioners
Landowners show up for hearing on Beartooth Front lawsuit

Court documents
Court documents and other records related to the lawsuit between the landowners and the Stillwater County Commissioners can be found at the Beartooth Front Coalition website.

Posted in Community Organization | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Must attend! Stillwater County Planning Board: Wednesday, August 7, 7pm

The next meeting of the Stillwater County Planning Board will be held this Wednesday, August 7, at the Stillwater County Pavilion in Columbus at 7pm. Please plan to attend. This is a critical meeting at which the Board will consider a draft set of regulations on a county initiated zone along the Beartooth Front in southern Stillwater County.

It is important for proponents to be in attendance and voice their support. It is expected that there will be opposition to the zone in attendance.

Note that the meeting is at a new location. The Stillwater County Pavilion is at 328 E. 5th Avenue in Columbus.

This will be the third consecutive monthly meeting at which the Board has considered the proposal from landowners to form a zone that will regulate land use related to oil and gas activity. At the July  meeting the Board directed the landowner group to develop a draft set of regulations for the board to review.

The meetings have taken place because of an agreement between the County Commissioners and the landowners in the Beartooth Front Coalition to suspend the landowners’ lawsuit against the County. The initial 60 day suspension has been extended by an additional 45 days to allow discussions on the zone to continue.

The Planning Board’s actions have to date followed a Road Map developed by the landowners in May. The plan calls for the Board to direct the development of a final draft of regulations to approve and send to the County Commissioners for adoption.

To read the draft regulations, click on this photo of the Stillwater River at sunset. Much of the Upper Stillwater is included in the proposed zone.

Click on the panoramic photo of the Beartooth Front below to view a presentation describing the base standards required by the zoning regulations. The presentation, which will be given at the meeting, compares these standards to existing laws and standards in other states and Montana counties. It is clear that what the landowners are asking for is similar to what is required in other jurisdictions and does not contradict or duplicate existing Montana law.

Please try to attend if you can. We are at the critical stages of winning approval for this project that landowners have worked toward for six years. We need to show Stillwater County officials that your support for our efforts is unwavering.

Background materials:

Background reading
Stillwater County News: “Workable Framework” adopted for potential southern county zone
Action alert: Your attendance needed at Stillwater County Planning Board meeting, July 3, 2019
Action alert: New developments in landowner lawsuit against Stillwater County; what you can do to help – posted June 3, 2019

Materials presented at the June 5 Planning meeting:
Beartooth Front Zoning District Overview
Zoning District Map
Overview of Proposed Regulation

More information on the history of this landowner effort
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 zones in Montana?
Stillwater County Commissioners turn their backs on locals who pay their salaries; support unknown outsiders
Beartooth Front landowners file legal action against Stillwater County Commissioners
Landowners show up for hearing on Beartooth Front lawsuit

Court documents
Court documents and other records related to the lawsuit between the landowners and the Stillwater County Commissioners can be found at the Beartooth Front Coalition website.

Posted in Community Organization, Politics and History | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Stillwater County News: “Workable framework” adopted for potential southern county zone

(Note: The following article appears in the July 11, 2019 edition of the Stillwater County News. It is reprinted here with permission of the Publisher. Subscription normally required to read article. To subscribe, click here.)

“Workable framework” adopted for potential southern county zone

“As Stillwater County is in a state of growth, the commission is looking into any and all options to help protect the county against out of control growth. While this may happen through some sort of zoning, it also may not. The commission’s goal is to welcome growth, but make sure it does not negatively effect the county as a whole.”

-County Commission Chairman Mark Crago

A “workable framework” has been adopted by the Stillwater County Planning Board, the latest action in the yearslong process spearheaded by residents to create a zone in the southern end of the county.

 At the July 3 County Planning Board meeting, the Beartooth Front Coalition, a group of citizens from southern Stillwater County, presented a proposal for the creation of a zone that would regulate the surface impacts of oil and gas development.

The County Planning Board is considering the creation of the zone due to a mutual agreement between the Beartooth Front group and the county, who are opposing parties in a lawsuit regarding the invalidation of the group’s petition to create such a zone.

The lawsuit is on hold as the board considers the zone. After much discussion between the public and board members, the proposal was accepted last week by a 5-2 vote of the board and will act as a framework for the future as draft zoning regulations come to the board.

THE FRAMEWORK
The proposal was created by the Beartooth Front group with the assistance of consultant Bob Horne, a retired community planner. The zoning district is to apply to a specific area in southern Stillwater County, and “will regulate oil and gas exploration and production in the interests of public health, safety, and general welfare – it does not prohibit oil and gas facilities in the county,” according to the document.

It is noted that Montana Code 76-2-209 specifically says county zoning “may not prevent the complete use, development, or recovery of any mineral, forest, or agricultural resources by the owner of any mineral, forest, or agricultural resource.”

Horne described this law as a litmus test for any zone to be created.

“This district will set standards that will protect the public from the health hazards often associated with oil and gas development,” the proposal reads. “In addition, this district will provide a mechanism for the county government to evaluate the impacts of oil and gas development on public infrastructure and services, and to recover those costs that are the direct result of oil and gas activity.”

The proposal suggests implementing an oil and gas conditional use permit for interested developers that would be reviewed on a case-by-case basis. The reasoning is laid out in the document:

“Through the conditional use permit process, conditions can be attached to the permit approval to ensure that the conditional use is compatible with its surroundings, and that adverse impacts to the community are avoided.”

Some sample discussion criteria included in the proposal include surface and ground water sampling and monitoring systems, monitoring air emissions, and visual and traffic impacts. The proposal notes that, “Generally, conditions must be reasonable and directly related to the mitigation of an adverse impact and/or to ensure that a given criterion is met.”

The 3-4 month permit process laid out in the proposal includes an application, a conference with the planning office, and then a community informational meeting. After a committee submits recommendations to the Planning Board and a final application is submitted, the Planning Board would conduct a public hearing and adopt a recommendation for the county commissioners. The commissioners would have the final decision on issuing the permit.

The permit system was described by Horne as a way to give the county “a seat at the table.” It sets up an organizational structure to identify impacts and recoup any costs from developers so the taxpayers are not burdened by the cost of fixing infrastructure.

Horne noted that the goal in creating the permit process is not to turn down a large number of permits, and permit denials cannot be arbitrary.

During his lengthy career in planning, Horne said he has seen very few denials of conditional use permits, and those instances came when an applicant refused to meet a criteria.

SUPPORT
About 30 citizens attended the meeting, and several of them voiced support for going forward with the proposal and moving to the next step of the process.

The proposal was described as “well-written” by several Planning Board members, and they also said the framework would be a good starting place to then look over the proposed regulations.

Going forward with the framework and considering the regulations was also noted as being in line with the county commissioners’ wishes, particularly in relation to county-wide zoning.

COUNTY-WIDE ZONING
On Monday in a conversation with the News, Commission Chair Mark Crago expanded on the topic of potential county-wide zoning into which the commissioners are inquiring.

“As Stillwater County is in a state of growth, the commission is looking into any and all options to help protect the county against out of control growth. While this may happen through some sort of zoning, it also may not,” Crago said. “The commission’s goal is to welcome growth, but make sure it does not negatively effect the county as a whole.

“We have questions on a regular basis about solar and wind development, and unlike other counties, we do not have any current regulations that help us in directing these businesses in how they can develop within the county. This is very concerning and needs attention.”

He noted that no decision has yet been made about whether or not the Beartooth Front Zone will be created, and if it does occur, additional decisions about whether it will be its own zone or part of a county-wide zone will also have to take place.

Crago emphasized that “the commission is not trying to be big government and regulate things more, however, we are looking out for the best interests of all of Stillwater County and this is just the beginning phase of finding solutions.”

CONCERNS
County Planning Board President Curt Jacobs voiced concerns about the potential for conflicting or redundant regulations, as well as the administrative costs that could accompany enforcing such a permit system.

The county’s Contract Planner Forrest Mandeville raised the question of missing details in the proposal, such as an appeals process, and Horn reassured the board that enforcement, cost, and additional administrative details would be included in the draft regulations to be brought to the board.

Jacobs and a couple members of the crowd questioned how such a zone would impact mineral rights owners, and lengthy discussion between the crowd and board members followed about how mineral rights owners would be affected, whether it was possible to locate all of the mineral rights owners, and whether it was relevant to consider mineral rights owners when looking at oil and gas surface use regulations.

A DNRC planner with the Southern Land Office in Billings, Jeff Bollman, attended the meeting and said his agency would like state trust lands in southern Stillwater County to not be included within the zone boundary. Bollman noted there is a provision in state law that allows the state to use its land contrary to local zoning, but the preference would be to not have to utilize this provision by being excluded from the zone to begin with.

During the final 5-2 vote to move forward with the framework and accept  proposed drafted regulations, Jacobs and Ray Karls (Molt) voted against the motion. Bob Van Oosten (representative of the Conservation Board), Gary Enstrom (Park City), Karen Heyneman (Fishtail), Rita Westrum (Fishtail), and Carolyn Hutson (Absarokee) voted for the motion. Gerald Edwards, the vice president of the board, was not in attendance.

WHAT’S NEXT
With the working framework adopted, the next step for the County Planning Board is to begin drafting regulations. The Beartooth Front Coalition will undertake the task due to the group’s experience and knowledge in the topic stemming from the years the members have been working to create the zone.

By the end of July, the Beartooth Front group, with Horne’s assistance, will have completed a draft of proposed regulations for the zone. Those regulations will be presented to the County Planning Board at the August meeting.

The proposed regulations will give the board and county planning staff a starting point from which they can hold discussions and make any changes they see fit. A public hearing is expected and board members are planning to bring in a representative of the Montana Board of Oil and Gas before a final decision is made regarding the creation of the zone and regulations.

If the board decides to go forward with the creation of the zone, the finalized proposed regulations will be sent to the county commissioners for final approval or denial. The entire process is expected to take months.

July 23 is the 60-day deadline initially set by the court for the pause in the lawsuit between the Beartooth Front Coalition and Stillwater County. As long as the parties feel progress is being made, they will seek to continue working with the board on the issue rather than through the courts.

Sunset over the Stillwater River, taken from our deck. The proposed zone includes much of the Upper Stillwater.

Posted in Community Organization, Politics and History | 3 Comments

Action alert: Your attendance needed at Stillwater County Planning Board meeting, July 3, 2019

There were continued positive developments in June in the Stillwater landowners’ attempts to establish a zoning district that will regulate oil and gas activity in southern Stillwater County. At the June meeting of the Planning Board, the Board voted to consider the citizen request for the Stillwater Beartooth Zone, and asked the petitioners to prepare more information for the Board to consider at the July 3 meeting.

The landowners have prepared a description of the proposed process for granting permits to drill in the zone, which they will present at the July 3 meeting. The June meeting was very well attended, and it is essential that supporters attend this meeting as well. Public officials are responsive to their stakeholders, and a strong showing is critical to our cause.

The meeting will be held at 7:00pm at the Stillwater County Planning Office at 431 Quarry Road in Columbus. Please come, pass this along to friends, and invite others to attend.

Proposed Stillwater Beartooth Zoning District Map.

Proposed process
The petitioners are proposing that the zone be formed over a sequence of four meetings, culminating in the development of a full zoning ordinance in September. If the Planning Board sends the ordinance to the Commissioners, they will hold a public hearing to solicit community input before approving the zone. The is the suggested process the petitioners will be presenting on Wednesday.
Because of the Planning Board’s vote in June, the petitioners will also present an overview of how they propose that the zoning ordinance should be structured. The presentation will give an overview of this document, which they distributed to the Planning Board last week.

Please attend, and bring others. Our attendance at the next four meetings will make us successful. We need you to be a part of it.

Background reading
Action alert: New developments in landowner lawsuit against Stillwater County; what you can do to help – posted June 3, 2019

Materials presented at the June 5 Planning meeting:
Beartooth Front Zoning District Overview
Zoning District Map
Overview of Proposed Regulation

More information on the history of this landowner effort
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 zones in Montana?
Stillwater County Commissioners turn their backs on locals who pay their salaries; support unknown outsiders
Beartooth Front landowners file legal action against Stillwater County Commissioners
Landowners show up for hearing on Beartooth Front lawsuit

Court documents
Court documents and other records related to the lawsuit between the landowners and the Stillwater County Commissioners can be found at the Beartooth Front Coalition website.

 

Posted in Community Organization | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Action alert: New developments in landowner lawsuit against Stillwater County; what you can do to help

A district court hearing in the Beartooth Front landowners’ suit against the Stillwater County Commissioners, originally scheduled for May 23, was postponed by mutual agreement of the parties. The reason for the postponement was a positive development in discussions between the landowners and the Commissioners.

The two sides agreed that the landowners would propose a county-inititiated zone to the Stillwater County Planning Board on June 5. If the Planning Board recommends forming the zone, which would regulate oil and gas activity along the Beartooth Front, and the Commissioners approve it, the lawsuit would become unnecessary.

If the zone is not formed, the lawsuit will continue.

You can provide critical support by attending the Planning Board meeting and speaking up to show that residents are behind the landowners’ efforts. Read more below.

Background.
Landowners began working on a proposal to create a special district in October 2013, when the Billings Gazette announced that a Denver oil and gas operator had opened an office in Billings with the intention of “bringing a little bit of the Bakken” to the Beartooth Front. At the same time a drill pad appeared off Highway 419 near Dean.

Local residents of southern Stillwater County were alarmed that this kind of development could occur without any advance notice or planning for the mitigation of potential impacts to natural resources and the financial interests of private landowners.

They approached the Stillwater County Commissioners to request support for a citizen-initiated zone to ensure that any future drilling was done with proper consideration for the unique character of the Beartooth Front area. Their intent was not to block drilling, but to make sure that it was done right.

The Commissioners refused to meet with them or provide support. Undeterred, the group decided to form a citizen-initiated zone, which required a supporting petition signed by 60% of local landowners. They collected over 575 signatures, which they presented to the County in November 2015.

The County ignored and delayed validating the petitions, finally announcing in  August 2017 that the group had surpassed the required 60% of signatures.

But there was a hitch. The County decided to interpret Montana law in a way it has never been interpreted before, saying that the law required the signatures of not only 60% of the landowners, but 60% of the underlying mineral owners. The petitioners were left with no choice but to sue for their rights.

Local landowners showed up in force at a hearing in Columbus last July.

The suit has wended its way through the courts, surviving a motion to dismiss by the County and a change of judges, and was scheduled for a hearing in district court on May 23 to decide the case.

But the Commissioners met with the landowners in May, and a decision was made to consider the landowners’ proposal to form a zone before the Planning Board at its June 5 meeting. If the Planning Board decides to go forward with a zone, and it is approved by the Commissioners, the suit would become unnecessary.

Action Alert. What you can do to help
Formation of a zone will be the subject of discussion of at least the next three meetings of the Stillwater Planning Board. These meetings are open to the public, and audience members have the opportunity to speak.

Your attendance at these meetings is critical. After six years of study, signature gathering, and meetings, there is a real opportunity right now to protect our land by making sure that any future oil and gas drilling is done right. Please forward this to others who you think might be interested.

This is probably the last opportunity to settle this issue out of court. Please help to make it count.

Meetings are held on the first Wednesday of the month, so the next three dates are:

June 5
July 3
August 7

Meetings are held at 7:00pm at the Stillwater County Planning Office at 431 Quarry Road in Columbus.

Background material for Planning Board Meeting:
The landowners will present the following proposal material to the Planning Board at the meeting on June 5:
Beartooth Front Zoning District Overview
Zoning District Map
Overview of Proposed Regulation

More information on the lawsuit:
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 zones in Montana?
Stillwater County Commissioners turn their backs on locals who pay their salaries; support unknown outsiders
Beartooth Front landowners file legal action against Stillwater County Commissioners
Landowners show up for hearing on Beartooth Front lawsuit

Court documents
Court documents and other records related to the lawsuit can be found at the Beartooth Front Coalition website.

Watch the Preserve the Beartooth Front video:

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Learning Opportunity: Absarokee, Tuesday, May 21, 7pm

For the last six years local activists have focused on developing a responsible approach to oil and gas drilling in the rural West, places like Stillwater and Carbon counties in Montana. Our argument has been that we need to act in advance of drilling to make sure that we are not overrun by heavy industry that is poorly regulated in Montana. We have struggled to work with local officials, who have not always been responsive to this approach.

Dr. Julia Haggerty

Dr. Julia Haggerty, professor of geography at MSU, is an expert in this area. She has done extensive research on the communities of the West and how they respond to change. In her presentation, at the Absarokee Cobblestone School at 7pm on Tuesday, May 21, she will explore, using energy development as her subject, how local rural communities can cope with change that can transform a region in an instant. The event is free to the public. Refreshments will be served.

She argues that local government has changed in nature over the last few decades, making it very difficult to cope with major economic shifts. Her fundamental message is that like it or not, local communities have to rely on their own resources to cope with rapid change. She gives examples of how local government and local citizens’ groups have risen to the challenge by forming organizations and policies to contend with geographic, economic and social change.  Sometimes they have been successful and other times not, and she notes the success factors that separate communities.

Her presentations are down to earth and easy to understand, and she has partnered with photographer Chris Boyer to take spectacular photos that illustrate the change she is talking about.

Come on out to learn and talk to your neighbors about this important issue.

The event is co-sponsored by:

 

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From Jimmy Kimmel: Kids explain climate change to Donald Trump (video)

It’s been cold this week in Montana, with wind chills down to -40°. Cold enough for mail service to be suspended in the eastern part of the state.

Leave it to the President, who has called climate change a hoax perpetrated by China (and worse), to completely misrepresent what this means, tweeting this beaut:

Trump clearly misunderstands the science behind global warming, and once again makes the classic error of confusing weather and climate. I was going to explain this myself, but I think these kids do it much more clearly than I possibly could have. From the Jimmy Kimmel show:

Posted in Climate change | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Preserve the Beartooth Front honored by The Montana Post

Don Pogreba

Preserve the Beartooth Front was recognized by Don Pogreba of The Montana Post in his article on Best of the Montana Blogs 2018. The article he cites is our August post on How the Trump Administration is quietly stripping away environmental protections.

Make no mistake about it — Trump and company have done everything they can to roll back environmental protections that have been established over many decades. This has been done primarily through rulemaking and other administrative procedures, which are generally ignored by cable news but can have a huge impact.

Thanks Don!

Posted in Shared Letters and Posts | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

Largest oil and gas reserve in US discovered. It’s not the Christmas gift Ryan Zinke thinks it is.

On December 6 the US Department of the Interior announced the the discovery of the largest deposit of undiscovered, recoverable oil and gas resources in US history. According to the US Geological Survey (USGS), the reserve contains 46.3 billion barrels of oil, 281 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, and 20 billion barrels of natural gas liquids.

Map of Wolfkamp Basin (USGS). Click to enlarge.

The reserve is called the Wolfcamp Shale and overlying Bone Spring Formation , and it is located in west Texas and southeast New Mexico.

By contrast, the Bakken formation in the Williston Basin of North Dakota will ultimately produce an estimated 7.4 billion barrels of oil according to a 2013 USGS estimate. Note the difference in estimates between what is “technically recoverable” in the Wolfcamp Shale and what will ultimately be produced in the Bakken. The Wolfcamp Shale may not actually produce 46 billion barrels of oil, but it is huge.

“Christmas came a few weeks early this year,” said U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke. “American strength flows from American energy, and as it turns out, we have a lot of American energy. Before this assessment came down, I was bullish on oil and gas production in the United States. Now, I know for a fact that American energy dominance is within our grasp as a nation.”

Zinke by the Christmas tree

Zinke’s reaction cuts to the heart of the critical challenge we face today. The announcement of this new reserve comes just two weeks after the release of the National Climate Assessment by the Trump Administration. This scientific assessment says we must act now to fight climate change or we face hundreds of billions of dollars in public health costs and a huge decline in our economy.

So we have one branch of the government telling us that it is a scientific fact that human-based climate change will cause huge damage if we don’t do something about it, and another branch jumping up and down by the Christmas tree like a kid who just got 46 billion barrels of candy and intends to eat it all before sundown.

Here’s the truth: we can’t take all that oil and gas out of the ground or we’re going to pay a far higher long-term price than the short-term financial benefit.

Ryan Zinke needs to be dragged away from his Christmas presents and replaced by a responsible adult who can balance the critical choices we have to face right now.

 

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Stillwater County landowner lawsuit update: County runs out the clock on Judge Jones; hearing set for January 16

In the three months since my last update on the Beartooth Front landowners’ lawsuit against the Stillwater County Commissioners, the Commissioners have carefully followed a familiar path — delay, delay, delay. The result is that a new judge will have to hear the case, likely resulting in more delays down the road.

Judge Blair Jones

The landowners filed the suit last February after the Commissioners denied a petition to set up a citizen-initated zone to regulate oil and gas drilling in southern Stillwater County. The Commissioners ruled that the petition did not qualify, even though it met the legal requirement of the signatures of 60% of the landowners in the proposed zone. According to the Commissioners, the petitioners needed the signatures of 60% of the minerals owners in the proposed zone in addition to the landowners.

Montana counties, including Stillwater, have set up 111 citizen-initiated zones in the state in the last 65 years, and this is the first time a county has ever required the signatures of minerals owners to set up such a zone.

On August 28, the landowners filed their brief in the suit, which demands the Commissioners certify their petition and hold a hearing on the zone. According to Montana law, the County had 21 days to respond, and the landowners would then have 10 additional days to file their own response. If these timelines were met, all briefs would have been filed in September, and a hearing could have been scheduled.

The timing was critical, as both parties understood, because Judge Blair Jones, who was assigned to the case, is retiring at the end of 2018. Judge Jones has already ruled on the first motion in the case, and was familiar with the issues.

Local landowners showed up in force at a hearing in Columbus last July.

But on September 13 the County filed a motion asking for an extension until November 1 to file their response, citing a need for additional time to review the landowners’ brief, prepare their arguments, and have them reviewed by the County. Judge Jones granted an extension until October 22.

After granting the extension, Judge Jones notified the parties that it would not be possible for him to hold a hearing and render a decision before his retirement. He set a hearing date for January 16, 2019.

Matthew Wald. Photo: Stillwater County News

The new judge will be Matthew J. Wald of Hardin, who was elected on November 6 to fill Judge Jones’ seat as 22nd District Judge. Wald defeated Raymond Kuntz of Red Lodge to win the seat.

In other developments in the case, Stillwater County has filed a cross motion for summary judgment, a standard procedure in cases of this type. Three of the four required briefs have now been filed, with the landowners filing their final brief last week. The County’s final brief is due in 10 days.

Also, Budd-Falen, the Cheyenne law firm representing Stillwater County, has asked that a second attorney be admitted to the Montana Bar in order to try the case. He is Brendan L. Jensen, who has been practicing environmental law at the firm for the last 18 years.

Delays are nothing new in this case. The landowners originally submitted their petition in November, 2015, and the County has taken every opportunity to avoid complying with the law and granting the petition, which would put reasonable regulations on drilling, not ban it.

Background
Beartooth Front landowners present hundreds of signatures to Stillwater County Commissioners to set up oil and gas zoning district
Do mineral rights have anything to do with citizen initiated zoning in Montana?
Beartooth Front zone update: Stillwater Commissioners turn their backs on locals who pay their salaries; support unknown outsiders
Beartooth Front landowners file suit against Stillwater County Commissioners
Stillwater residents give Commissioners an earful on proposed policy (with video)
Landowners show up for hearing on Beartooth Front lawsuit
Beartooth Front landowners win first round of lawsuit

Lawsuit documents
Beartooth Front Coalition brief requesting summary judgment – filed August 28, 2018
Stillwater County’s request for extension – filed September 13, 2018
Judge Jones’ order granting extension – filed September 20, 2018
County’s brief in support of cross-motion for Summary Judgment – filed October 30, 2018
Landowners’ response to cross-motion for Summary Judgment – filed November 30, 2018

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