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Commissioners Ignore Public Input on Gravel Policy

Guest Commentary: Kip Willis

On Feb. 7 county commissioners Gary Hall, Joe Brenneman and Dale Lauman voted 3-to-0 for the destruction of not only the quality of life for all the citizens of Flathead Valley, but the complete annihilation of neighborhood plans as we know them and the zoning contained within these plans.

They voted to allow industrial operations and open pit mining to take place anywhere in the valley that has land zoned AG-40 and AG-80. That is in “simple words” the farm you live next to or just down the street from.

Most everyone familiar with the problems associated with gravel pits think this deals only with West Valley and the gravel industry’s desire to destroy the land and develop open pit mining on a scale never seen before; building asphalt factories, cement batch plants and sucking 25 million gallons of water a week to supplement their rock wash plants and the like. This will reduce, if not cripple, home and land values for miles around. Last but not least, this will disrupt the quality of life for almost 2,500 neighbors in West Valley.

The commissioners and county planners have undertaken a five- or six-step process to remove all public input or discussion regarding the growth policy and the effect it will have on neighborhood plans. For many years, all residents of the valley have relied on neighborhood plans to protect their neighborhood flavor, or at best had a unique attraction which best suited their personality and thus made it a desirable place to call home.

The process to gut the neighborhood plans and create our new growth policy in “their vision” has already taken place. First phase: remove residential zoning from anyone who lives next to a farm. Second phase: create or change the definition of residential for any farmer who wishes to destroy his land, bring in bulldozers, set up industrial cement batch plants and asphalt factories, reduce his or her neighbors’ property and home values and disrupt the quality of life for everyone in a couple-mile radius just to make a buck.

Now don’t get me wrong, not all your neighbors in Creston, Whitefish, Lakeside or Bigfork would intentionally want to make a few million dollars on their land, while they watch your home and land values go down 20 to 30 percent. Gary, Dale and Joe said if I, or you and your neighbors, don’t like it then sue the county. They will just figure out a way to change the wording in the growth policy or get rid of the pesky little neighborhood plans that are hindering us after all.

Phase three and four of their plan is to stack all the committees, land-use advisory boards and any other group of “citizens” for neighborhood plans with their hand-picked cronies to go full steam ahead with their plans.

During the last vote, it was brought up many times before Gary Hall that most all of the community advisory boards and committees were stacked against the little guy and we had no voice or chance to be heard. The commissioners agreed and said that they might like to change this a little bit in the future?

Phase five and six are next on the commission’s docket. The planning staff will venture out and help each little neighborhood rewrite their little neighborhood plans in their own vision. Never mind what the working folk and the neighbors who live there want. After all, board members know what is best for all involved.

All this neighbor has to say about public process and input is: Can you say, “Next election baby?”

Kip Willis live in Kalispell

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