Diverse Groups Join to Fight Eco-Vandalism

By Beacon Staff

While few leads have surfaced since May in the case of a rash of vandalism against developments by a self-proclaimed anti-sprawl group, the crimes have brought together three groups that don’t always see eye to eye.

Conservation group Citizens for a Better Flathead, the Northwest Montana Association of Realtors and the Flathead Business and Industry Association have joined together to create a reward fund for anyone who comes forward with information that leads to a conviction in the vandalism case.

“We’ve worked hard to build civil dialogue in the community,” said Mayre Flowers, executive director of Citizens for a Better Flathead. “We need to speak up when acts that aren’t civil take place and remind each other that we have proper avenues to work on our differences.”

Last month, a person or group calling itself “Americans Stopping Sprawling Development” (ASSD) targeted three subdivisions in Bigfork and Columbia Falls, spray-painting signs and roads, and pulling up surveying stakes. The damage to the subdivisions is estimated to be thousands of dollars and the Flathead County Sheriff’s Department considers the vandalism to be felony criminal mischief. In a manifesto left behind at the crime scenes and in an e-mail to the Beacon, ASSD said it would continue to carry out such acts in order to raise awareness about the problem of sprawling development in the Flathead.

Despite arguing for opposing viewpoints on many local issues when it comes to development, the heads of the three groups agreed the vandalism doesn’t help anyone’s cause.

“Incidents create strange bedfellows,” said Denise Smith, executive director of the Flathead Business and Industry Association. “In any civilized society, I don’t know of anybody who would be supportive of that kind of behavior.”

George Culpepper, of the Northwestern Montana Association of
Realtors, said in a statement that everyone should have a say in planning how the Flathead Valley grows, but resorting to vandalism crosses the line.

Citizens for a Better Flathead has pledged $100 to the reward fund, and the boards of the other two groups will be considering their contributions.

The groups urge anyone with information about the vandalism to contact the Sheriff’s Department at 758-5610, or to call CrimeStoppers at 752-8477.

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