A judge in Flathead County says opponents of a water bottling plant outside Kalispell will have an answer before late March regarding a citizen-petitioned zoning change that could ban the plant.
The Egan Slough community in Creston say they want to block the the water bottling plant because of its potential impact on local property values, its drain on existing wells and possible impacts on the Flathead River.
The group is trying to block the plant by expanding a citizen-initiated Ag-80 zone to include the property where Montana Artesian Water Company hopes to start bottling this spring. The zoning change would restrict land use to agriculture only and keep lot sizes at 80 acres or more.
Flathead County Commissioners voted unanimously in 2016 to deny the zoning change, even though petitioners met the 60 percent threshold of support by local property owners. Petitioners sued the county shortly after.
Kim Wilson, representing the Egan Slough community, says county commissioners abused their discretion in denying the petition.
"This is a case where the record is so lacking in fact or foundation that it clearly is unreasonable, and the commissioners failed to articulate, adequate, their decision," Wilson says.
But the board of commissioners and Lew Weaver, who owns Montana Artesian Water, argue that the 60 percent support threshold only gets the proposal through the door. It’s up to the county to decide if it’s in the public’s best interest.
"They considered all the issues in front of them," says Marybeth Sampsel, who represents Weaver. "They considered more than they needed to under the statue, and they ultimately just reached a conclusion that the plaintiffs didn’t agree with. That’s not what abuse of discretion is for."
More than 50 people showed up Monday morning for the hearing at the Flathead County Courthouse.
Judge Robert Allison can decide to uphold the county’s denial or remand the decision back to commissioners. He’s expected to make a ruling before the end of March.
The proposed zoning change to add 530 acres to the Egan Slough Zoning District will also show up on county ballots on June 5.