Big Sky Subdivision Phase Greenlit by County; Groups Demand DEQ Conduct Public Process on Impacts to Impaired Gallatin River

Letter Signed by Conservation Organizations sent to Department of Environmental Quality Director Dorrington

On Tuesday, March 5th, the Gallatin County Commission approved a preliminary plat for Phase II of the Quarry Subdivision, a multi-phase PUD sited in Big Sky’s Canyon Area near the impaired Gallatin River. The development is now in front of the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to review the subdivision’s second phase impacts on water, wastewater, and stormwater facilities. To date, the department has not committed to hosting a public process that would allow citizens to be engaged in local decision-making, as required by law. Today, Upper Missouri Waterkeeper along with American Rivers, Montana Environmental Information Center, Montana Trout Unlimited, and Greater Yellowstone Coalition sent a letter to DEQ Director Dorrington seeking a public process. 

“When it comes to evaluating new wastewater discharges on the Gallatin, DEQ needs to hit pause until we have a durable solution for cleaning up the river. Piecemealing ‘phased’ subdivisions to avoid assessing cumulative pollution impacts based on some future hypothetical sewage management proposal that may or may not be viable while shutting the public out is a recipe for disaster,” said Guy Alsentzer, Executive Director of Upper Missouri Waterkeeper. “It’s disingenuous for DEQ to move forward with Phase II given the ongoing litigation and the fact that the Gallatin River is already polluted, especially without a transparent, public process. Montanans have a right to understand how DEQ is making decisions, impacts to the river, and likewise have a right to participate in such decisions through a public comment process.” 

Gallatin County’s approval of Phase II of the Quarry Project is concerning for a few reasons. The middle segment of the Gallatin has officially been declared “impaired” for nuisance algal blooms under the federal Clean Water Act. The algal blooms plaguing the river each summer are the direct result of human-caused unnatural nutrient pollution loading from wastewater discharges, degrading aquatic life, recreational opportunities, and local business.

DEQ must complete a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) for the river to reduce the pollutant loading and noxious algal blooms, and until that has occurred and is being implemented, the department should not approve any additional pollution sources. Phase I of the Quarry Project is under active litigation now.

Further, far-off and questionable future waste management proposals are not a justification for ignoring the immediate cumulative impacts this major subdivision would have on the Gallatin River and area water resources. 

DEQ needs to focus on developing a TMDL, implementing nutrient pollution controls that will reduce the nutrient loading to the river, and ensure the public is involved in all decision making before it can continue to approve permits for any new development that will exacerbate the Gallatin’s pollution problems.