Page One News at a Glance
By Michael Howell
Two more proposed subdivisions have landed in court following denials of the subdivision applications by county commissioners.
Developers of the proposed Hamilton Heights Block 3 subdivision, Marlin and Joshua Powell, filed suit in Ravalli County District Court in early October contesting the Commissioners' denial of their subdivision application in September.
The major subdivision proposal involved creating 20 lots on 42.24 acres southeast of Corvallis off of Hamilton Heights Road. On a 3 to 1 vote, with Commissioner Greg Chilcott casting the lone dissenting vote, the application was denied based on unmitigated impacts.
The developers charge in their suit that the county's action was "arbitrary, capricious, whimsical, and shocking to the conscience." They claim that the Commissioners did not consider the criteria in a rational manner and that there was a complete lack of evidence to substantiate the denial.
The plaintiffs claim that the commissioners act represents "the use and employment of whimsical, vexatious, capricious, egregious, arbitrary, inequitable, and oppressive government power which shocks the conscience."
The developers claim to be incurring up to $2,000 per month in holding fees since the denial. They are asking that those costs and others incurred during the application process be paid by the county. They claim the Commissioners' action was a violation of state subdivision laws and the due process clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Nikki and Aldo Sardot, developers of the proposed Saddle Hills subdivision, which was denied by the commissioners at a meeting on September 17, 2007, have also sued the county hoping to reverse their losses.
The Saddle Hills development would create 20 lots on about 117 acres located about 6 miles east of Florence. The developers claim that the decision to deny was not based on fact or law, nor on any credible evidence. In language virtually identical to the Hamilton Heights suit, the developers call the decision "arbitrary, capricious, whimsical and shocking to the conscience."
The county's conduct is described as "whimsical, vexatious, capricious, egregious, arbitrary, inequitable, and legally unsupportable." The developers accuse the county of acting "purposefully, willfully wantonly, maliciously, and intentionally" in actively engaging to deny them their rights by state law and the U.S. Constitution.
The developers are asking the court to anull the county's denial decision, to reverse it, and to collect damages of as yet unspecified amounts. They are also claiming a violation of the open meetings law embodied in the Montana Constitution by holding a closed session as part of the subdivision hearing that was not legally justified.
By Michael Howell
The Brown Valley Ranch conservation easement may soon be expanded by another 200+ acres.
Situated in the foothills of the Sapphire Mountains northeast of Stevensville, the Brown Valley Ranch is located in the heart of elk winter range in the area. Three Mile Creek winds through the ranchland adding immensely to the land's value for agriculture and for wildlife. Wallace B. and Virginia Brown established the ranch in 1966.
Within a year of purchasing the ranch the Browns sold the top half of the ranch, about 3,400 mostly forested acres, to the State Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) to become part of the Threemile Wildlife Management Area. It has played a key role in the state's wildlife management efforts in the area since that time and is open to public hunting and recreation.
The couple arrived in Montana with a deep and immediate appreciation for the wide open beauty of the place and a love of the wildlife that shared the land. That love of the land and of animals, both wild and domestic, only deepened as time passed. Then, with subdivision development encroaching from both sides in the mid 1990s, the couple began the effort to place a Conservation Easement on 1,800 acres of their ranchland adjoining the state wildlife management area
"We didn't want to see the land chopped up into little pieces," said Virginia Brown.
It was a lot of work, it took a few years, and Wallace died before the easement was officially established. But Virginia persevered in the effort and finally succeeded on December 18, 1995. Another 68.42 acres was added to this original easement in December 2000, bringing the total easement to 1,869 acres at that time.
Now Virginia and her children, who share ownership in the ranch, have proposed, and FWP is considering, adding another 204.5 acres to the existing easement. The cost to FWP would be $45,399 calculated by applying the same rate per acre ($222) as was agreed upon in the 1995 easement. FWP and the Ranch propose to add the acres to the easement area by replacing the original recorded easement document with a Restatement of Deed of Conservation Easement in December 2007. This Restatement would add the 204.5 acres to the legal description of the easement, bringing the total Brown Valley Ranch easement to 2,073.39 acres, but would otherwise preserve the original purposes and terms.
Following the Brown's lead in 1995, their neighbors Bessie and Ernie Bolin soon had a similar conservation easement placed on 5,204 acres of their ranch adjoining the State Wildlife Management Area and the following year, in 1997, Dianne Lewis granted a similar easement on an adjoining 130 acres. Combined, the Brown, Bolin and Lewis easements and the Threemile Wildlife Management Area provide over 13,000 acres of elk winter range.
The Brown Valley Ranch and the Lewis easements do not allow public hunting but provide valuable refuge and forage for the elk. The Bolin acreage is open to hunting, hiking and wildlife viewing. The state-owned game range allows full public access as well.
According to information compiled by FWP, the proposed 204.5 acre addition to the Brown Valley Ranch easement does offer significant opportunities for wildlife viewing. Virtually all of the property closely abuts Threemile Creek Road, which is open to the public year-round. Virtually all of its wildlife would be visible from this road with binoculars. FWP officials have observed black bear, bobcat, elk, golden eagle, and white-tailed deer from this road, in addition to resident and migratory songbirds.
The parcel contains a two mile long "ribbon of woody riparian habitat" along Three Mile Creek as it snakes along the property's edge. The creek supports west-slope cutthroat trout, and the Brown family has invested heavily, along with FWP and other non-profit partners, in the restoration and protection of fisheries habitat all along the reach within the proposed easement addition. Nearly one and three quarter miles of the creek, between Four Corners and the Girl Scout property, has recently been enhanced with fencing, placement of natural logs and root wads, and planting of native shrubs by GEUM Environmental Consultants of Hamilton. Along with careful livestock management, as outlined in the Management Plan, this will greatly increase the value of the riparian habitat for wildlife.
There is one dilapidated, abandoned building on the property that was part of the original Cooney Ranch. Frank Cooney was governor of Montana in the 1930s.
Funding for this proposal is provided from a portion of Montana hunting license revenues set aside to secure and manage lands as wildlife habitat. FWP Commission is the decision-making authority for matters of acquiring conservation easements or other interests in land proposed by FWP. In this case, the Montana Board of Land Commissioners will be required to review the Commission's action on this proposal because the proposed project would involve a land area in excess of 100 acres.
A draft environmental assessment of the proposal has been released for public review and comment. The public review period is from October 16, through 5 p.m., November 14, 2007. A public hearing is scheduled at St. Mary's Family Center, 333 Charlos Street, Stevensville, on November 8, 2007 at 6:30 p.m.
Comments should be sent by 5 p.m., November 14, to John Vore, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, P.O. Box 1408, Hamilton MT 59840, or e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 375-2273.
By Michael Howell
Stevensville resident Mary Lyon is about to be granted a very big gift: a living kidney. She has needed one for long, long time.
Lyon has been a Type 1 diabetic for over thirty years. Then, about a decade ago, her kidneys began to fail. They have been gradually failing ever since. About two years ago, Mary's doctor began conducting a battery of tests needed to qualify her to be placed on a kidney transplant waiting list. Last April she finally qualified for placement on the list at Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle.
But the problem with being on those lists is that the priority keeps changing as different people's problems become more severe. The closer you are to death, the higher up on the list you go. In this case getting worse starts to look like your best chance. It's not a good situation.
Instead of waiting to get worse, Mary and her husband Bill took the initiative. They decided to look elsewhere, to beat the bushes for a possible donor and the best place to start, they decided, was in their own hometown. Bill contacted the Bitterroot Star and a story was published describing Mary's plight. Lo and behold, someone saw the story, titled "Can you spare a kidney?", and decided she could.
Not only is that a hard decision for a person to make, it is a hard one to follow through on. You can't just just give one of your kidneys away to anybody. It's got to be a match. In fact there must be a match in several respects. The blood type must match the recipients. The donor must not have any antibodies in their blood that would attack the donor. There must be some level of tissue match. It requires a lot of testing.
The prospective donor contacted the hospital that Mary was using to say that she was interested in donating the organ.
"Then, the day that my church gave me a prayer shawl, she was there at the church," said Lyon. The two talked about it and the woman expressed a desire to put off the operation until after summer because she had some plans and activities that she wanted to pursue. So they did.
Testing began for the donor in June and the results were positive. The donor was interviewed by the specialists and tested further in September and it was all positive. The surgery has been scheduled for November 27.
"I'm very excited and a little bit afraid," said Lyon. "What a gift for somebody to give."
Funds are being raised locally to help the Lyonses with expenses related to the transplant. The Stevensville Civic Club is selling bandanas for $10 each. To purchase one, call Tim Schreiber at 777-7210. In addition, the Stevensville Playhouse (formerly Chantilly Theatre) is staging a special performance of "Why Do Fools Fall In Love?" on Saturday, November 3 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15 each and must be reserved by Friday, November 2 at 12 noon. Call 777-2722 for more information.
By Michael Howell
A local political action committee, called Citizens for Effective Government, has been formed with the aim of influencing the outcome of the upcoming Hamilton City Council elections. The group has initiated an advertising campaign based upon the slogan "Stop the Fighting!" and has endorsed two candidates in the upcoming election. The group represents itself on its web site as "a non-partisan effort dedicated to stopping the dysfunctional infighting on the Hamilton City Council and to electing folks that are more reasonable, respectful and responsive to the needs of our community." Not surprisingly, the group does not support the incumbent candidates, Bob Scott and DeAnne Harbaugh, whom it considers a part of the "dysfunctional infighting." Instead the group endorses candidates Jenny West and Al Mitchell.
As CEG President John Kauffman is quoted as saying in the endorsement section of the web site, "Folks are sick and tired of all the infighting and dysfunction on the City Council. The 'Bobs' and Deanne seem to be motivated by their personal agendas versus the Peoples' agenda. Voters want a city government that knows how to listen and get things done. We ask you to vote for Jenny West and Al Mitchell to create a council that can work well together and make progress on critical issues like growth, so vital to preserving the wide open spaces, beauty of the Valley and future of our community."
Critics of the new PAC suggest that it is the CEG members who are pursuing their own personal agendas and that agenda has to do with promoting, not just growth, but very specific and controversial developments such as the proposed Flat Iron Subdivision and the Area 3 development along Fairgrounds Road.
A member of Bitterrooters for Planning, Phil Taylor, said, "Who are the major financial contributors to the Citizens for Effective Government PAC? Jim Schueler, a partner member of Flat Iron LLC, and Peter VanTuyn, a partner member of Bessenyey-Van Tuyn LLC which represents Area 3 which is the controversial neighborhood proposal adjacent to Hamilton. Why would [CEG] seek out pro-development individuals for contributions for candidates in a Hamilton election? And why would Schueler and VanTuyn contribute? You can draw your own conclusions. The councilors they are attempting to defeat are DeAnne Harbaugh and Bob Scott who are only guilty of standing up for the interests of the citizens of Hamilton and they are not liked by development interests."
Taylor also questions the motivation of CEG president Kauffman and Treasurer Deb Essen, neither of whom live in Hamilton, for getting so involved in Hamilton elections.
According to CEG's most recent filing with the Commissioner of Political Practices, the PAC has received a total of $2,600 in the first reporting period from only five individuals. Those donations are listed as $500 from President John Kauffman, of Kauffman Marketing in Stevensville; $100 from Treasurer Deb Essen of Essen Communications Corp.; $500 from Howard Rapp Jr. of the Rapp Family Foundation; $500 from Peter Van Tuyn, environmental lawyer with Bessenyey and Van Tuyn LLC; and $1,000 from Jim Schueler, owner of Diamond Bar S Ranch.
Candidate Bob Scott said, "CEG's 'stop the fighting' campaign is based on a fiction." He said that no one listed as a contributor to CEG has been to enough city council meetings to know firsthand how the council functions. He believes that it is more likely that his opposition to the proposed lift station designed to provide services to the neighborhood of Area 3 is at the root of CEG's endorsement of his opponent.
Essen defended the group's aims and motivations. She said that the group formed specifically to address the problem of discord on the council and that no other special issues are involved.
"This council reminds me of the 2000 Legislature," said Essen. "Ideology is trumping getting anything done."
She said that her group judged the candidates on the criteria of their "reasonableness, responsibility, and respectfulness" and chose the candidates that they believed best represented those qualities. She said that positions on other specific issues were not considered. She dismissed claims to the contrary, saying that she did not believe that any of the candidates chosen was going to feel obligated to vote on any specific issue based on the money they might receive from CEG for their campaign or for any other reason.
"We are not looking for people to agree with any particular issues," said Essen. "We are looking for people who can work with the Mayor and administration and get some things done. The current council members do not seem to play well with each other."
With respect to being from out of town, she said, "I shop in Hamilton. I do business in Hamilton. I have clients in Hamilton. I have friends in Hamilton. What happens in Hamilton affects my life, even if I don't live in Hamilton."
By Michael Howell
With no officially registered opponents, Clayton Floyd Jr.'s bid as a write-in candidate for a seat on the Stevensville Town Council representing Ward 2 is the odds on favorite.
Floyd and his wife moved to Stevensville from Missoula a year ago last April. While living in Missoula, Floyd served on the Missoula City Council for four years. After a year out of politics and with no one else filing for the Stevensville Town Council seat from his Ward, Floyd decided to give it a shot.
"I think I can be helpful," said Floyd. "There are important decisions before the city right now and I've got the experience and background to help."
Floyd said that a clear vision of the future, 10 to 20 to 50 years down the road, is needed because doing business one piece at a time can't yield good results. He said that the city is considering a $5.5 million upgrade to the city water system.
"If it needs it, that's one thing," said Floyd. "But if it's just to expand for new development, that is not fair to the current residents."
Floyd said that he is already working on bringing himself up to speed and has been going door to door in his ward.
"A lot of people don't feel like the council is really responsive to them," he said. He said that it was an important job and that he feels up to it.
"I love the town," said Floyd. "We've got great neighbors and I'm ready to work for them."
Susan Evans is running unopposed to retain her seat as Ward 1 councilperson.
Both seats on the Stevensville Town Council are for four-year terms.
County Clerk and Recorder Regina Plettenberg said that mail-in ballots must be returned to the Clerk and Recorder's Office by 8 p.m. on November 6, 2007.
"That does not mean postmarked by that day," Plettenberg emphasized. "It means we need the actual ballot in the office on that day and by that hour." She said that the building would be open so that people could drop off their ballots up until 8 p.m. She said that for those living in outlying areas a signed and sealed ballot with a signature on the outside of the envelope, as well, could be delivered to the office by a trusted member of the family or friend.
By Michael Howell
Stevensville Police Chief James Marble was recently appointed to serve on the Montana Public Safety Officer Standard and Training Council. In the past, the council's duties were carried out under the auspices of the Board of Crime Control. Following passage of Senate Bill 273 the council was established as a quasi-judicial body under the Department of Justice.
The 13-member Council oversees the licensing of police officers in the state and grants them certification. The Council is also responsible for revocation of certificates if the situation warrants it. The Council is also responsible for setting the training standards for police officers across the state. The council meets quarterly in Helena.
Chief Marble said that the state Association of Police Chiefs wanted representation on the council and a list of names was submitted. Governor Schweitzer made the selection. Marble will serve a four-year term on the council.
Marble said that he was proud of the appointment. "But it is also humbling," he said, "because I represent all of the police chiefs in the state."
Stevensville Mayor Bill Meisner made an announcement of the appointment at the Town Council meeting on October 22.
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