The next step in the Beartooth Front Coaltion lawsuit against the Stillwater County Commissioners is a hearing in front of Judge Blair Jones. The hearing will be held at the Stillwater County Courthouse in Columbus on Thursday, July 26 at 1:30 pm.
The Beartooth Front landowners filed suit against the Commissioners in February 2018 after the County declined to consider their petition to form a citizen-initiated zone. The landowners filed the petition, which included the signatures of over 550 landowners, in February 2017.
According to the petition, the zone would establish reasonable regulations to ensure that future oil and gas drilling in the 83,000 acre area covered by the zone would protect the “rural residential and agricultural character of the area.” It would not ban oil and gas drilling (see zone map).
The hearing concerns the County’s request for a summary judgment in the case. They have argued that the zone the landowners have petitioned for cannot be formed because only the Montana Board of Oil and Gas has the power to regulate oil and gas, and the County should be granted a judgment in its favor. The landowners have countered that there are, in fact, many ways in which oil and gas is regulated by other entitites, and, as a result, the suit should go forward.
As a matter of fact, there are at least 111 citizen-initiated zones in Montana, several of which establish the same kinds of regulation over oil and gas drilling that the landowners seek to create.
What is unique about this case is that the Commissioners, after notifying the landowners that they had reached the required signature threshold of 60% of the landowners in the proposed zone, decided that 60% of the signatures of minerals owners were required as well.
Requiring the signatures of minerals owners is a significant departure from existing practice in the state, and would be a blow to landowner rights going far beyond oil and gas regulation if the County is successful. No citizen-initiated zone formed in Montana has ever required the signatures of minerals owners. If the County is successful in the suit, it could mean the effective end of the right of Montana landowners to petition to control what happens on their properties.
Why it is important for you to attend the hearing
This step is the first of several hearings in this case. If the landowners are successful in their suit, the ultimate outcome will be for the Commissioners to hold a hearing to consider the petition. It is critical for them to see evidence at every step of the way that landowners stand firm in their demand that their rights be protected.
Please come if you can. I hope to see you there.
The County is represented by the Budd-Falen firm of Cheyenne, Wyoming, a radical firm that has represented clients such as Cliven Bundy, and is a leading voice in opposing regulation and advocating for the disposal of federal land. The landowners are represented by David K. W. Wilson of Helena, whose practice involves representing Montanans concerned about protecting their constitutional and environmental rights.
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?
Stillwater Commissioners turn their backs on locals who pay their salaries, support unknown outsiders
Stillwater County Beartooth Zone: the Commissioners’ position is not only illegal, it is completely undemocratic
BREAKING: Beartooth Front landowners file legal action against Stillwater Commissioners
Stillwater residents give County Commissioners an earful on proposed policy (with video)
Media coverage of Beartooth Front Coalition efforts to preserve landowner rights
Latest developments in the Beartooth Front Coalition lawsuit against the County