News & Features

County Votes to Terminate Interlocal Agreement with Whitefish

Commissioners say city’s referendum to repeal has clouded process

After years of disagreement and lawsuits, an ad-hoc committee met regularly in 2010 in an attempt to find a non-litigious solution to the planning doughnut dispute between Flathead County and Whitefish.

It took only 15 minutes Wednesday morning to dismiss the result of those meetings, adding another degree of uncertainty to a perpetually uncertain situation.

The Flathead County Commission unanimously voted to provide the city with a one-year notice of its intent to terminate a revised interlocal agreement that was hammered out during last year’s negotiations between city and county representatives and doughnut residents.

Commissioner Jim Dupont said a Whitefish citizens’ referendum that will be placed on November’s ballot has forced the county’s vote for termination. That referendum calls for repealing the interlocal agreement. Dupont said if the referendum passes, there will be “challenge after challenge after challenge ahead of us.”

“If things don’t go right in November, at least we’re six months into terminating (the agreement),” Dupont said.

Lyle Phillips, who represented the doughnut at last year’s negotiations, believes the referendum raises more legal questions and said “we in the doughnut are tired of litigation.” At the meeting, Phillips asked the county to “assume jurisdiction of the doughnut.”

County officials sent a letter to Whitefish explaining their reasons for terminating the agreement. Officials in Whitefish have 90 days to propose a resolution. If the two sides still can’t agree, then a mediation process will take place.

Meanwhile, Whitefish City Attorney Mary VanBuskirk said there are pending motions before Flathead County District Court Judge Katherine Curtis with multiple parties awaiting her rulings.

The city and county have asked the lawsuit between them to be dismissed, while third-party intervenors are asking for the lawsuit to continue and another party is asking to become an intervenor.

There is no clear timeline for possible resolutions to all of the disparate components of the dispute, but Commissioner Dale Lauman still holds out hope for cooperation.

“I would really like to see us get together and come together and resolve this,” he said.

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