County Sued Over Egan Slough Zone Denial

Lawsuit against the Flathead County Commission asks judge to reverse board's decision and expand the Egan Slough Zoning District

Landowners in the Egan Slough area have filed suit against the Flathead County Commission after the board decided in November to reject a zoning district expansion that could affect a proposed water-bottling plant in Creston.

The Egan Slough Community, with Thomas Lindell also listed as a plaintiff, filed the lawsuit on Dec. 20 in Flathead County District Court. The suit asks the court to reverse the commission’s Nov. 21 decision to deny the zone expansion, as well as declare the commission’s decision “arbitrary, capricious and an abuse of discretion.” The rejected citizen-initiated measure was seeking to expand the 1,150-acre Egan Slough Zoning District by adding 530 acres.

This zoning change request took on extra intensity because of the potential effect it could have on the Montana Artesian Water Co., a water-bottling operation proposed by Creston resident Lew Weaver.

The Egan Slough Zoning District was created by citizens in 2002 as a way to preserve the agricultural land and rural character of the area, while preserving open space, wildlife habitat, and property values. The expansion would have included Weaver’s property.

According to permit applications, the water company has asked to pump 710 acre-feet of water annually from the aquifer, or roughly 1.2 billion 20-ounce water bottles. The facility would be allowed to run 24 hours a day, all week.

Despite dozens of people speaking out in public support for the expansion, especially during the Nov. 21 hearing, the commission voted unanimously to reject the measure. At the hearing, Commissioner Pam Holmquist said she couldn’t vote to expand the district because it seemed to single out a property owner — Weaver — whose permits for the plant are still under scrutiny at the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation.

The lawsuit asserts that this water-bottling plant could eventually add 200 car and truck trips per day to the rural gravel roads, creating safety concerns and noise and air pollution, and impacting property values. The suit said an expert real estate evaluation placed the total loss of property values at more than $16.6 million for landowners around the plant.

Plaintiffs also allege that the commission received extensive public comment, and then subsequently ignored the facts of the situation and did not “in any meaningful way” address concerns about public health, safety and welfare.

During the Nov. 21 hearing, Deputy County Attorney Tara Fugina prompted the commission to discuss these issues. Krueger said agriculture is already an industrial industry, with semi trucks traveling those same roads to pick up the harvest. He also said he didn’t believe Weaver intended on running his bottling plant 24 hours a day, but that the state determines permits on a 24-hour scale.

“I don’t think that Mr. Weaver’s water-bottling plant is ever going to send (more than 100) loads a day,” Krueger said.

Holmquist agreed.

“I don’t believe that this would change what’s out there in any way,” she said, to the displeasure of the crowd gathered.

The suit says that the commission didn’t adequately respond to public comment and denied the Egan Slough community and the public meaningful participation in the process.

  • MaddieHayes

    Isn’t it true that the protester group didn’t follow proper procedure and now they’re simply using this lawsuit as an attempt to achieve an end-around? Isn’t it also true the only reason this group wants to expand Egan Slough is to kill the bottling plant? Why don’t they just admit that and own it?

    Isn’t it true this group didn’t complete the appropriate procedures we have in place and now they want the rules crafted to suit their wishes?

    • Teagan

      I am guessing you must have a financial interest somehow. To think a water bottling plant is okay is crazy.

      • donho1116

        And your thinking is normal and above board? Hmmmm?

      • MaddieHayes

        I differ from your opinion and somehow I must have a financial interest? That’s some twisted logic.

    • Concerned Citizen

      No. That is NOT “true”.
      What is true, is that the rest of the property owners (hundreds of us), within an 8 mile radius of Weavers bottling plant are being denied our property rights for the benefit of one property owner, Lou Weaver. How is that right Maddie? How close to the plant is your property? Do you believe this is okay? How can the commissioners aver they represent property owners rights when they are (in practice) only representing one property owner? The “end-around” is what the commissioners did.
      Are you okay Maddie?

      • Westwinds

        In your response to Ms. Hayes, you didn’t provide any substantive proof that the “hundreds” of you followed proper procedure. I suspect it because you can’t, which is her point (I happen to agree). You’re allowing your feelings to dictate your response. You’re only lamenting.

  • Ron Fisher

    Some simple facts I know are: getting shelf space in stores is not cheap, an the BIG PLAYERS….are not going to roll over; unless they buy a rotary blow molding machine the water user will have to pay for mega loads of bottle brought in by semi’s; selling any bottles after QC rejects them (if) would be hard and the excess rejects have to be chipped into small pellets; unless the owner of the “water plant” has some connected relative/friend/associate…other than throwing money down a black hole will be super hard. With all the equipment to produce an end product from prewash to capping to shrink wrapping to palletizing etc…then sell at a competitive price with all the competition…gona take more than good luck. And since this would be sold/given away the company would have to meet strict FDA GMP guidelines or face fines & shut downs.

    • Caddisfly

      He is just doing the legwork to get this approved then he will sell it to Nestle or Coke. This is just the beginning, once this is approved there will be multiple other companies lining up to put their plants in.

  • Teagan

    My opinion….The county Commissioners have thrown us all under the bus. They waited till after the election to cast their votes…. ALL OF YOU SHOULD BE RECALLED! You have ignored the voice of the people. To allow a water bottling plant of any kind is insane. This is a slippery slope and if it isn’t stopped, our way of life in the Flathead will be forever changed.

    • MaddieHayes

      You have ignored the processes in place, like the rest of protesters.

  • Concerned Citizen

    It seems obvious to me the County Cronies (Krueger, Holmquist) are nothing more than pro corporate, pro profiteering, greed mongers, who don’t give a damn about the citizens of Flathead county. They only foster their ideology of growth at any cost. They have not addressed the issue of our future water supply, predicted to be a fraction of what it is now, nor the rights of surrounding property owners who’s wells will surely run dry in about fifteen years. Those property owners rights have been given no protection from the effects of Weavers bottling plant. However, they don’t care about that because Krueger, Weaver, and Holmquist are sleeping together after a hard days work denying the rest of us our property rights. This appears to be blatant corruption. Also, if you want to harvest firewood on state land, you must obtain a firewood permit through the DNRC and PAY a minimum $20.00 fee (for 2 cords), yet they are GIVING Weaver endless amounts of tax payer water with nary a dime in recompense. This is a complete travesty, and citizens need to send a message to the legislature that this is unacceptable, or we will become a state of waterless citizens, with Nestle bottling plants on every corner. What kind of people do this to their fellow citizens?
    I support this legal action and future impeachment of Krueger and Holmqvist for breach of fiduciary responsibility, (if not for outright corruption).

    • Caddisfly

      I agree with your entire post except now I cannot get the image of Krueger, Weaver and Holmquist sleeping together, I kind of threw up in my mouth when I read that.

  • Fast

    senator Bob Keenan of Bigfork Said we should leave Weaver alone – it’s his private