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Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Page One News at a Glance

County puts hold on processing subdivision applications

Stevi girl seriously injured on highway

Stevi family homeless following fire

USFS, State agree on proposed water rights settlement

Hamilton School Board wants help with 20-year plan

County puts hold on processing subdivision applications

By Michael Howell

The Ravalli County Planning Office has quit reviewing any subdivision applications that were not deemed complete and sufficient by October 1, 2006. This will be the case until the County's Subdivision Regulations can be amended to meet new statutory requirements that went into effect October 1, or until the Commissioners decide otherwise, as may be the case following a meeting scheduled for Tuesday, October 10.

The Commissioners received a memo from Deputy County Attorney James McCubbin on September 29, in response to an inquiry from Planning Director Karen Hughes. Hughes was wondering how to treat pending and new applications in the face of the new law.

The law, SB 116, passed by the legislature in 2005, made some significant changes to the Montana Subdivision and Platting Act, but delayed making the changes effective until October 1, 2006 in order to give counties the chance to amend their regulations to come into compliance.

Hughes said that the Planning staff, at the Commissioners' direction, began undertaking a complete overhaul of the County's subdivision regulations to address all the deficiencies that had been identified across the board. But the process became bogged down with an overload of subdivision applications, staff vacancies, and some of the largest subdivisions ever proposed. She said that in the last few months they have refocused to look at making only the changes necessary to meet the new requirements of the Act. But those changes are still not ready for adoption and the time has run out.

McCubbin states in his memo that the new law establishes that subdivisions may be reviewed for approval or denial only after they have been determined to be complete and sufficient in the information provided. He also recognizes that the county's current completeness review does not meet all the requirements of the sufficiency review process added to the Act by the legislature. Nonetheless, he recommends that the County continue to process all applications that have been determined to be complete and sufficient under their current rules so long as that determination was made before October 1. Applications that were not deemed complete by that date should not be processed.

This leaves it unclear how to proceed with applications after the new law becomes effective but before the new County regulations are adopted that would bring them into compliance with the Act. McCubbin recommends not processing any of the subdivisions until the regulations are changed, which may be a matter of weeks or even months.

This may place the County in violation of laws setting a deadline on processing applications once they are submitted. McCubbin argues that even though not processing new applications within the deadline set by law is illegal, to process them under a scenario that is also illegal would lead to even worse ramifications for everyone involved.

"Suspending review of additional applications is in the best interests of everyone involved," wrote McCubbin, "because it will free up some Planning Department resources to get revised subdivision regulations in place as soon as possible. Furthermore, it would be contrary to the best interests of subdivision applicants for Ravalli County to proceed with subdivision applications through a process that would be very vulnerable to litigation and court invalidation, which would delay implementation of their proposals much longer than it will take to get revised subdivision regulations in place."

Although the Commissioners did agree to McCubbin's recommendations last week, they were scheduled to reconsider that decision on Tuesday, October 10, in the face of objections received from John Tabaracci, an attorney working for the Legacy Ranch subdivision, a mega-development proposed north of Stevensville. Tabaracci argues that Legacy Ranch (and any other proposed subdivision submitted before October 1, 2006) should be processed under the regulations in effect when the applications were made, not when they were determined to be complete and sufficient as the new law requires.

Hughes said that the County Attorney's office was reviewing Tabaracci's arguments and would meet with the Commissioners on Tuesday, October 10 and either confirm their original recommendation to suspend reviews of applications that were not deemed sufficient and complete before October 1, or change their opinion and process any application received before that deadline.

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Stevi girl seriously injured on highway

By Michael Howell

Twelve-year-old Sheylynn Cordle, of Stevensville, was severely injured on September 27 while crossing Highway 93 just north of the Wye. She was hit by a northbound car driven by Stevensville resident Gretchen Spiess.

According to Cordle's cousin Don Nigh, the young girl had no vital signs until emergency responders were able to resuscitate her at the scene. She was flown by helicopter to St. Patrick's Hospital in Missoula where an MRI disclosed severe brain damage and swelling. Nigh said that the doctors were not sure that she would ever regain consciousness. Cordle's mother gave permission for the insertion of a tube to try and relieve some of the pressure on the brain. The next day, he said, Cordle began moving her hand. By the third day she had opened her left eye. Her right eye remains closed due to pressure on the nerve from the swelling. Use of the right eye could possibly return as the swelling reduces, Nigh said.

Besides the injury to her brain and brain stem, Cordle had a broken left leg and ankle and suffered from aspiration pneumonia. Then, on October 4, an aneurism was discovered in her neck and she was flown from Missoula to Harbor View Medical Center in Seattle for treatment.

In Seattle, Nigh said that doctors discovered that her right leg was also broken and it has now been fixed. He said that on Friday seven stints were placed in her carotid artery to address the aneurism. He spoke to a doctor on Monday who said that Cordle was suffering a fever of 102 degrees and they were looking for the source of the infection. She was also suffering from spasms of the brain that reduced blood flow. They were hoping to make the spasms subside through medication. She can breathe on her own but is still on a ventilator. She will remain on the ventilator until the swelling subsides.

"She's responding well to touch," said Nigh. "She's squeezing hands and interacting. She opens her left eye and can obey commands to move her hand or lift her arm." He said that she was aware of certain people when they were present and doctors were encouraged by her response.

Nigh said that the family was really grateful for the community's response. He said that so many people showed up while she was in intensive care and so many people called that they had to set up an answering machine to take the calls, but that the family really appreciated the response.

The Cordles have no insurance. Accounts have been set up in three valley banks to accept donations to help the family try and meet the overwhelming medical costs. Checks may be written to Sheylynn Cordle and deposited at accounts in any branch of Farmers State Bank, Ravalli County Bank, or at the Rocky Mountain Bank in Stevensville.

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Stevi family homeless following fire

By Michael Howell

Just after midnight on Sunday, October 1, Andy and Donna Anderson and their children managed to escape a fire in their home on Pine Hollow Road east of Stevensville with their lives, but that's about it.

Dean Whitesitt, incident commander at the scene from the Stevensville Volunteer Fire Department, said, "No one was injured, but the place is a total loss. They got out with what they had on their backs."

Besides firefighters from the Stevensville City and Rural Fire Districts, firefighters from Victor and Three Mile also responded. By 4 a.m. some firefighters were being released from the scene but a few remained on the scene until 7 a.m. when the State Fire Inspector arrived. The cause of the fire is still being investigated.

Since the fire, the family has found temporary refuge in the homes of a few friends.

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USFS, State agree on proposed water rights settlement

By Michael Howell

The Montana Reserved Water Rights Compact Commission (RWRCC) and the USDA Forest Service (USFS) announced on September 28, 2006 that a proposed USFS Reserved Water Rights Compact has been agreed to by both entities through a negotiated settlement and is now available for public review and comment. A reserved water right is a right to water that is created when Congress or the President reserves land out of the public domain. These rights must be resolved either in court through Montana's statewide adjudication process or by negotiation of a compact that settles claims.

"After many years of negotiations, we're all pleased to be presenting this settlement to the public," said RWRCC Staff Director Susan Cottingham in a press release. "It would not have been possible without the teamwork and cooperation of everyone involved." Negotiations have been on-going for the past 13 years but have intensified over the last year, with meetings scheduled every month.

The 26-page negotiated settlement outlines the specifics related to the water rights that the USFS will have, mainly in central and western Montana. The proposed settlement covers the reserved rights the USFS has for use of water for district offices, ranger stations, guard stations, work centers, housing and other facilities; tree nurseries and seed orchards; riding and pack stock used for administrative purposes; road construction and dust abatement; and for water for emergency fire suppression. These rights will have a priority date set at the time that Congress established the National Forest.

The proposed settlement also establishes state-based water rights for in-stream flows for nearly 80 basins in the compact as well as a future process for the USFS to acquire state water reservations for other watersheds. Except for the South Fork of the Flathead Wild & Scenic River, the in-stream flow rights for the USFS will have a priority date of 2007. The priority date for in-stream flows on the South Fork of the Flathead will be Oct. 12, 1976, when Congress designated it Wild and Scenic.

State law requires that the negotiated compact settlement must be enacted by the legislature, be approved by federal officials, and go through the objection process in the Montana Water Court. After all objections have been resolved, the Water Court will issue a final decree for all water rights in each basin, including the reserved rights in negotiated settlement.

Comments from the public on the proposed settlement agreement will be accepted through November 27, 2006. The draft negotiated settlement as well as the dates and locations of the public meetings and open houses planned throughout the state may be found on the DNRC website at Written comments may be sent to RWRCC, 1625 11th Ave., Helena MT 59620 or e-mailed to

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Hamilton School Board wants help with 20-year plan

By Michael Howell

The Hamilton School Board has been working over the last three years toward establishing a 20-year plan for the building and grounds within the district. The Building and Grounds Committee has studied the district's seven buildings and athletic fields and compiled assessments of their conditions and needs.

The list includes the Westview Center, which was built in 1960 with some updates in 1994 and houses the Alternative High School and numerous renters including Kids First. The building contains large amounts of encapsulated asbestos. It needs roof work, a boiler update and wiring. The plumbing is considered marginal.

The Hamilton High School building, constructed in 2000, currently houses 565 students, but has room for expansion to accommodate up to 650. It has a tournament-sized gymnasium that draws tournaments from around the state. The 700-seat Hamilton Performing Arts Center is used extensively by the fine arts department.

The Hamilton Middle School was built in 1930, remodeled in 1976, and again in 2000. The older part of the building is in need of repair. There is a new boiler system in place and the building serves 390 students, but lacks sufficient playground space.

The Daly Elementary building was constructed in 1969 with an addition in 1985 and currently houses 350 students in grades 2 to 5. The committee considers it to be a good structure in good shape, but in need of some repairs.

The Grantsdale Elementary building was built in 1932 with some repairs and an addition completed in 1962. It houses 96 students in grades 2 to 5 and currently needs repairs and new wiring throughout.

The Washington Elementary building was built in 1950 with an addition in 1991. The old part of the building is in need of major repair. The boiler is old and in need of replacement. The building needs new windows and better air exchange. It needs new wiring and lacks storage. It currently houses 226 students but has a maximum limit of 220. There is no room to grow if an all-day kindergarten is mandated by the legislature.

The Administration building was constructed in 1920 and remodeled in 1942. The roof is only 5 years old. It has heating, cooling and wiring issues. Six people work in the building full time.

Although the school district has not seen much growth in the last few years, planned housing and commercial growth in the city indicate future increases in enrollment. Committee members point out that data shows that every new house being built produces about .42 students.

"By looking at only the projected growth of 650 new homes to be built over the next 15 years, we can predict what our building needs will be for the next 15 years," states the committee newsletter. "We will see an estimated increase of 300 students in the Hamilton School District. That is an increase of 18 percent over our current 1,647 students."

The committee has produced a questionnaire that district members may fill out to express their views on future planning, recommendations for specific buildings, and on such topics as whether to keep or sell property, or possibly move the athletic field.

Public response may be given to any member of the school board, dropped off at the District Office at 217 Daly, or left in the main office of any of the schools.

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