Letter Requests Governor Revoke Unlawful Subdivision Approval
On Wednesday, October 26, a coalition of nearly 100 concerned Broadwater County residents submitted a letter to Governor Gianforte requesting the administration correct the wrongdoings of its water rights agency regarding the approval of the Horse Creek Hills major subdivision. This new subdivision is platted for the eastern shore of Canyon Ferry Reservoir and implicates these citizens’ rural community, senior water rights, fisheries health, and local water resources.
“Unfortunately, and despite overwhelming opposition from the community, our County Commission went forward with approving this major subdivision,” said Carole and Chuck Plymale, long-time Broadwater County citizens and nearby cattle ranchers. “This is our last recourse to make sure we’re protecting our senior water rights. We hope the Governor will respond to our concerns.”
The Horse Creek Hills subdivision, a 435 acre development with 39 residential lots and 2 commercial lots, was approved by the Broadwater County Planning Board in late July after the Montana Department of Natural Resources & Conservation (DNRC) signed off on the use of several exempt wells for water supplies. The DNRC’s approval of a subdivision using aggregated exempt wells for domestic water supplies contradicts Montana Supreme Court litigation that found the DNRC cannot authorize new subdivisions that rely on several exempt wells because doing so undermines the Montana Water Use Act and leads to violations of senior water rights and negative water supply impacts.
Broadwater County also violated their mandatory duties under the Montana Subdivision and Platting Act by failing to consider the impacts a major subdivision like Horse Creek Hills could have on local water resources. These unlawful, arbitrary approvals by both the DNRC and Broadwater County led several local citizens and Upper Missouri Waterkeeper to file a complaint against the Department and County in August.
“The Governor has complete authority to direct the DNRC to take corrective action, follow the law, and reverse the unlawful approval of exempt wells for Horse Creek Hills,” said Guy Alsentzer, Executive Director of Upper Missouri Waterkeeper. “Almost 100 area community members have spoken up and asked the Governor to tell its agency to follow the law and revoke its authorizations. One of the biggest problems with the Horse Creek Hills subdivision could be resolved immediately if the State makes the right decision and simply follows the law.”
The community letter specifically requests the Governor instruct his executive agencies to correct their wrongdoings when approving Horse Creek Hills, including instructing the DNRC to reconsider and revoke their sign-off on the use of aggregated exempt wells for the subdivision. The letter also suggests that unnecessary litigation can be avoided if the Governor steps in, asks the DNRC to follow the law, and protects senior water rights, ranching operations, wildlife, and the livelihoods of Broadwater County community members.