The next hearing of the lawsuit filed by the Beartooth Front Coalition against the Stillwater County Commissioners will be held at the County Courthouse in Columbus at 2:00 pm on Thursday, May 14.
Because of coronavirus restrictions, the hearing will be held live on Zoom. In person attendance is not allowed.
To access the meeting on Zoom:
- Go to zoom.us from your web browser.
- Click “Join a Meeting” at the top of the page.
- In the middle of the page, under “Join a Meeting,” enter the Meeting ID 852 182 3337
- Click “Join”
- If prompted to open zoom meetings, do so. If not, click on “click here” to launch the meeting.
- You will be taken to the meeting and prompted for a password. At the prompt, enter “615010”
- The hearing broadcast will begin at 2pm
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.
The suit has wended its way through the courts, surviving a motion to dismiss by the County and a change of judges, as well as an unsuccessful attempt to have the County Planning Board consider including the zone as part of a countywide zone.
This hearing will lead to a decision by Judge Matthew Wald, which will be the final decision in District Court.
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
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