Creston Water-Bottling Plant Could Hinge on Voters

Initiative 17-01 seeks to expand the Egan Slough Zoning District, which would affect a proposed water-bottling business

By Beacon Staff
A sign in support of the Egan Slough ballot initiative in farmland near the Flathead River on May 3, 2018. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

Flathead County voters will get a chance to make their voices heard on a controversial issue relating to a proposed water-bottling plant in Creston.

Initiative 17-01 will be on the June 5 primary election ballot, and the initiative seeks to expand the Egan Slough Zoning District to include an additional 530 acres to the 1,150-acre district. Land added to the district would be limited to minimum lot sizes of 80 acres with 10 percent permitted lot coverage.

A vote for the initiative supports adding the acreage, and a vote against the initiative opposes expanding the district.

The district was created in 2002 as a way to maintain the agricultural nature of the area.

In 2016, landowners and neighbors from the Egan Slough Zoning District approached the Flathead County Commission about expanding the zoning district.

Earlier that year, county residents learned of landowner Lew Weaver’s plans to build and run the Montana Artesian Water Co., which would be able to pump 710 acre-feet of water annually from the aquifer, or roughly 1.2 billion 20-ounce water bottles. According to the permits, that would mean 140,000 per hour, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

If the initiative were approved, the land would fall under the guidance of the Egan Slough Zoning Commission, which would be charged with determining whether Weaver’s business fits within the eligible uses.

Despite hearing testimony from dozens of residents who supported the zoning expansion, the Flathead County Commission rejected the zoning expansion in 2016, and afterward landowners appealed the decision in court and the group Yes! For Farms and Water collected more than 12,000 signatures to get the measure on the ballot.

In March, Flathead County District Judge Robert Allison ordered that the Flathead County Commission reconsider the zoning district expansion, ruling that the commission didn’t adequately respond to public comment when considering the district’s expansion.

The order states that commissioners Gary Krueger, Phil Mitchell and Pam Holmquist appeared to rebuff public comment and expert testimony “without providing any factual basis for doing so.”

For his part, Weaver has said he opposes the district expansion because the petition singles him out and is designed specifically to prevent his business plans and restrict his property rights. Weaver supported creating the original zoning district in 2002.