Silvertip landowners appeal to Montana Supreme Court

Belfry landowners have appealed a ruling in a lawsuit they filed to assert their rights to protect their land against the harmful effects of oil and gas drilling. The appeal will go to the Montana Supreme Court.

In February of this year, the landowners filed a legal challenge to the Carbon County Commission’s decision to reject their petition to establish the Silvertip Zoning District, which would include nearly 3,000 acres of agricultural land north of Belfry. The Commission’s rejection was based on the opposition of certain neighboring landowners under a provision of the law that the plaintiffs argue is unconstitutional. In a narrow ruling, Judge Blair Jones on July 8 dismissed the lawsuit without ruling on the merits of the landowners’ legal challenge.

Martinell quoteMontana law empowers land- owners to initiate the develop- ment of zoning regulations for the protection of their land and community by petitioning their county commissioners to establish planning and zoning districts. “We as landowners, ranchers and farmers have a right to safeguard our property and livelihoods from the destructive impacts of oil development through citizen zoning,” said Bonnie Martinell, one of the plaintiffs. “The ability of neighboring landowners to unilaterally strip us of that right will remain an obstacle to local control throughout Montana unless the state Supreme Court decides this important issue.”

Beartooth Front viewed from the Silvertip Zone
Beartooth Front viewed from the proposed Silvertip Zone

The Silvertip landowners sought the protections of citizen zoning after Energy Corporation of America announced plans in October 2013 to hydraulically fracture 50 wells along the Beartooth Front, an area that includes Carbon and Stillwater counties in Montana and forms the northeastern flank of the greater Yellowstone ecosystem. Mork boasted that ECA hoped to bring “a little bit of the Bakken” to the Beartooths.

A little bit of the Bakken
A little bit of the Bakken (New York Times photo)

Although interest in large-scale oil and gas development in Carbon County has waned with the drop in oil prices over the last several months, Martinell said the zoning designation remains necessary to protect landowners when oil and gas development picks up again. “Through this process we’ve learned that developing regulations takes time and protections can’t be put in place over night. If we’re going to get this right, now is the time to act.”

Landowners in Stillwater County plan to bring petitions requesting a similar zone to the Stillwater County Commissioners later this year.

Earthjustice, an environmental nonprofit law firm, is representing the Silvertip landowners in their appeal.

Background information:
Citizen initiated zoning: a way to restore fairness to oil and gas drilling in Montana
Frequently Asked Questions about the Silvertip citizen-initiated zone
Exciting news from Carbon County: Commissioners move forward on Silvertip Zone
Unbelievable. Carbon County Commissioners defy will of majority to deny Silvertip Zone
Commissioners action in denying Silvertip Zone clearly illegal
Why Silvertip landowners filed suit against the Carbon County Commissioners
Breaking: Decision in Silvertip Zone case
(includes timeline of events)
Judge Blair Jones’ ruling

About davidjkatz

The Moses family has lived on the Stillwater River since 1974, when George and Lucile Moses retired and moved to the Beehive from the Twin Cities. They’re gone now, but their four daughters (pictured at left, on the Beehive) and their families continue to spend time there, and have grown to love the area. This blog started as an email chain to keep the family informed about the threat of increased fracking activity in the area, but the desire to inform and get involved led to the creation of this blog.
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3 Responses to Silvertip landowners appeal to Montana Supreme Court

  1. Pingback: Montana Board of Oil and Gas refuses to take up setbacks | Preserve the Beartooth Front

  2. Pingback: Silvertip landowners’ Supreme Court case receives boost from University of Montana amicus brief | Preserve the Beartooth Front

  3. Pingback: The oil market just gets worse and worse. | Preserve the Beartooth Front

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