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Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Page One News at a Glance

County sued over cease and desist order on work near river

Hamilton Budget adopted

Stevi Main Street program launches into another year

County sued over cease and desist order on work near river

By Michael Howell

Outspoken critic of the County’s efforts to formulate some streamside setback regulations, Tom Robak, has sued the county after being sent a cease and desist order involving the construction of a new home along the bank of the West Fork of the Bitterroot River. The cease and desist order did not have anything to do with setback regulations, which don’t exist yet, but with floodplain violations.

According to the legal documents filed, Robak bought the property adjacent to the Bitterroot River where Wheeler Creek empties into the West Fork of the Bitterroot River in 2000. In 2005 he installed a new septic and new well on the place. Then construction of a new home began in 2007. But in the beginning of 2008 the possible violation of floodplain regulations was raised by the County’s Floodplain Administrator Laura Hendrix.

Hendrix wrote Robak informing him of the potential violation and asked him for information concerning the project. She noted that it appeared to be in the floodway, which would be prohibited. If the county doesn’t enforce the no-building regulations in the floodway it could jeopardize the issuance of floodplain insurance for new construction in the valley. She asked Robak to submit an engineer’s survey and analysis of the elevation of the new construction, and an estimation of how much fill he deposited on the site. Floodplain regulations prohibit the deposit of any fill within the floodplain.

Robak responded with an engineering report that the new home site was above the elevation of the floodplain and asked the county for what evidence it had that he had placed any fill.

Hendrix and County Attorney Alex Beal then insisted that Robak divulge how much fill he deposited and where and provide a survey showing pre-fill elevation levels.

Robak responded by denying that he had placed any fill on the homesite and he asked what evidence the county had that he had done so. After waiting for some reply and not receiving any over the course of the summer, Robak filed suit, asking the court to allow him to finish the roof and weatherize his home before winter.

Robak claims in his lawsuit that the county violated his civil rights by using “threats, including that of civil and criminal actions, in an attempt to coerce the Robaks to comply with unreasonable and unlawful demands, make false admissions, and otherwise provide non-existent information.”

He also levels charges of inverse condemnation and unlawful taking, intentional and negligent interference with property rights, as well as general negligence. He also charges the county with defamation, lost prospective economic advantage, and Estoppel reliance. He claims that by coming on site and issuing a septic and well permit the county gave tacit approval to his project. He also claims a violation of due process under the Montana constitution.

Robak declined to comment after hiring an attorney. Hendrix also declined to comment since the issue was in litigation.

In the meantime three different complaints by neighboring individuals have been filed with the Bitterroot Conservation District alleging that Robak violated the Natural Streambed and Land Preservation Act (310 Law). One claims that he altered the course of Wheeler Creek without getting a 310 Permit. Another accuses him of hauling in gravel and placing it on the property, pushing it into Wheeler Creek and up to the bank of the West Fork of the Bitterroot. A third complainant also claims to have witnessed gravel being placed on the Robak property in violation of the 310 Law.

Julie Ralston, administrator for the Bitterroot Conservation District, said that the Board of Supervisors was in the process of seeking legal help to access the property and assess the complaints.

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Hamilton Budget adopted

By Michael Howell

The City of Hamilton officially adopted its 2009 Fiscal Year budget last month.

According to the budget document that must be registered with the state, the City is projecting property tax revenues to be about $1,336,923 and non-tax revenues of $3,220,616 for a total revenue projection of about $4.5 million in resources. Expenditures are estimated to be about $3.2 million.

City Financial Officer Craig Shepherd said that state entitlement funding is projected to be up a bit, rising from last year’s $816,000 to a projected $845,000 in fiscal year 2009.

“But we are anticipating less revenues in some areas such as revenue from building fees and local business licenses and other fees related to building and business with the downturn in the overall economy,” said Shepherd.

The biggest thing on the horizon as far as expenses go is the wastewater treatment system improvements that the city is undertaking, he said. Other expenses have undergone the usual increase.

“We keep going through changes here,” said Shepherd, “but on the whole we should consider ourselves fortunate. There are a lot of cities in Montana that are suffering a lot more right now. Right now, we are looking O.K. and I think this budget will hold up through the year.”

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Stevi Main Street program launches into another year

By Michael Howell

Heading into its ninth year of existence, the Stevensville Main Street Association has racked up a fine list of accomplishments and adopted an aggressive ‘to do’ list for the coming years. The membership has just elected Deby Lackas, owner of Earth Imaging, as its new president and is steamrolling towards one of its annual fundraising events, the Boast & Toast, where members boast about the group’s accomplishments and toast the valuable members, donors and contributors that have made it such a success. This year’s Boast & Toast celebration is scheduled for Saturday, October 4, at 6 p.m. at St. Mary’s Family Center.

The Stevensville Main Street Association was formed in 2000 as a result of the concern of several local business leaders and town officials over the lack of business vitality in the downtown area. Based on the direction and approach of the National Main Street program, the local non-profit group is dedicated to preserving the town’s historic buildings and heritage, as well as re-invigorating its economic climate. Five members of the organization are just back from attending the first-ever statewide Main Street Conference, which took place in Butte.

The Association’s accomplishments over the past years have been numerous. It has instituted the highly popular and successful First Friday celebration every month. It has hung decorative banners on the downtown lampposts. It has carried on and expanded the traditional Western Heritage Days celebration and parade. It instigated a Downtown Coupon Book Program for the businesses. It designed and placed a billboard out on Highway 93 advertising the town. It sponsors a Teacher/Staff Welcome Back Potluck for the school. It has facilitated the Town’s update of its Comprehensive Plan. It sponsors numerous business and historical education programs, including the Stevensville Leadership Program. In 2008, SMSA was directly involved in economic development activities that resulted in a net gain of eight businesses and twelve employees in Stevensville’s downtown.

Plans for the future include continuing all the same work and more. The aim is to become more local and focused, with an intent to not only expand those efforts but to develop financial stability for the organization as well.

“We will work to bring new and citizen-requested businesses to town and attempt to develop a community with a ‘Shop Local’ attitude, “said Main Street Association program manager Joan Prather. “We will also strive to ensure that our businesses adapt to changes in the marketplace, that our physical infrastructure is maintained, that we keep potential threats to our town’s vitality in check and that our downtown marketing strategies are proper and successful.”

Recently elected President Lackas said that the organization’s goals include increasing the membership, pursuing available grant dollars, and continuing work on promoting and enhancing the town and its businesses. The group has developed strategies for that promotion that include emphasis on the importance of design and signage in boosting the town’s image. They also have extensive plans to pursue an economic restructuring of the town to ensure its future vitality.

Lackas said that the organization has funded itself by a series of fundraising events and grants as well as funding from the Town of Stevensville.

“The town has contributed $10,000 annually to what has become a $68,000 annual operating budget,” said Lackas. “We hope that it will continue to support us.” Expenses are primarily associated with operation of an office on Main Street, program sponsorship, business development, presentation and marketing of the Stevensville community.

Tickets are still available for the popular “Mega-bucks” raffle, in which the lucky holder of the winning ticket will take home a minimum of $2500 in cash. Tickets are $25 each and can be purchased by calling the Main Street office at 777-2772. The winning ticket will be drawn at the Boast & Toast event.

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