At a well-attended meeting in Red Lodge this morning, the Carbon County Commissioners voted to move forward to create Silvertip Zone in Belfry. The Commissioners agreed that the zone is “in the public interest and convenience for public health, safety and welfare, and for the public infrastructure.”
This big step forward marks a significant benchmark in the process of creating the zone, which has been in the works for months, and has been discussed in many public forums. Here are the steps in creating a citizen-initiated zone, as set forth in Montana law in MCA 76-2-101:
- Any interested group of citizens in a county can create a zone. It is a democratic process. If 60% of the residents in an area want to create the zone, it can be brought forward to the County Commission.
- The rules of the zone must be drafted to be consistent with the county growth plan.
- A zone map must be created to reflect the properties to be included in the zone and define the perimeter of the zone
- Each landowner who supports the district needs to sign a petition. The signature must match exactly the name on the title of the land.
- When more than 60% of the landowners in the district have signed the petition, it can be brought to the County Commission.
- After the County Commission receives the petitions, it holds a public meeting to determine whether the zone is in the “public interest and convenience.” If so, the district is established.
- If the zone is established it is referred to a county planning and zoning commission. This is a seven member oversight board that reviews the zoning petition and recommends how it should be implemented.
- After opportunities for public input, the planning and zoning commission puts in place the regulations for the district.
- The planning and zoning commission is responsible for the ongoing administration of the district.
There is still much work to be done before the Silvertip Zone becomes a reality. The County will publish an “intent to create the district,” which gives any landowners within the Silvertip Zone 30 days to protest to the Commissioners. Several residents appeared at the meeting and indicated a desire to protest.
However, according to attorneys representing the Silvertip Zone, such protests are not allowed by Montana law. 68% of the landowners within the Silvertip Zone signed the petition to create the Zone.
ECA pulls out of Belfry well
Energy Corporation of America sent a letter to the Carbon County Commissioners last week indicating they have “determine(d) that this well is not a good candidate for further development for ECA. Therefore, we do not have plans to further develop this well, or pursue additional wells in the area at this time.”
While the letter is welcome news in the short term, Silvertip resident Bonnie Martinell was quick to point out, “The letter is irrelevant to our concerns. What the Silvertip landowners want to do in establishing this zone is protect our property and livelihoods for the long term. All ECA says is they’ve stopped operations “at this time.” Unless we set up this zone, ECA or another operator might be back at some point in the future.”
More to come on this. I’ll post the video of the meeting, which went on for about two and a half hours, as soon as it is uploaded.