Parting Shots

Property Wrongs

Conservatives, liberals and libertarians all expect a respect for property rights from the officials they elect

By Dave Skinner

The Beacon is still looking for my replacement. But until one is found, I have the great honor of being allowed to fill in the blank spots for the time being. I’ll be “cleaning up” topics I want to flog one final time. Don’t like it? You can do better? Then start typing.

Northwest Montana has trended into a pretty conservative place politically, enough so that most of our elected Republican officials feel comfortable in actually acting like Republicans voters expect, or at least hope. That goes double for Flathead County, which pretty much ranks with Billings in terms of concentrated and unified GOP influence.

Well, one thing good conservatives, classical liberals, AND libertarians expect from those they elect is respect for property rights, as in “no person shall be deprived [of] property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

Our Republican legislators and county commissioners clearly take property rights seriously. But in “nonpartisan” elected positions, where “progressives” can still win, or become judges, property rights are conditional on political whimsy.

One new, shining example of this whimsy, or hypocrisy if you will, is the screaming in Whitefish about Mountain Gateway. Mark Jones, of course, has the resources to defend his property rights on his 126,000-acre instant ranch, but when it comes to others, he threatens to withdraw his charitable “affordable housing” largesse? Now, that’s whimsy. I’m not optimistic at all about the future of our historic public use and enjoyment of his holdings in southern Flathead County.

Longer term, there’s the Dockstader Island mess. Has anyone considered that, prior to construction of Kerr Dam, which raised Flathead Lake 10 feet, Dockstader “Island” was a peninsula? Montana Cadastral shows how now-mostly drowned lakeshore properties legally run a considerable distance into the lake, including there’s a cherrystemmed-but-drowned beach lot in “front” of the Dockstader rock. 

So why the hullabaloo? Well, thanks mostly to my scrumming around in the “dark money” cesspool, I’ve made it my practice to Google “nonprofit” or political “legal domiciles.” It’s a great way to determine if a “group” is “real,” or just an Astroturf pop-up with a UPS Store box as world headquarters, or run out of a law or public-relations office under contract.

Last fall I was going through some documents on other issues and found a legal filing from an environmental group, Headwaters Montana. So, with Google Earth available, including “street views,” I just couldn’t resist popping Headwaters Montana. No, it’s actually a real place – the home of the professional environmentalist/community organizer who runs Headwaters.

Where is it? Across Holt Road, with a lovely (and I’m sure, quite marketable) view of the lake and formerly pristine Dockstader Island. His investment is safe at last, or will be as soon as the owners dig out the bridge. Thing is, the family that bought his view, and had a right to their dream, is apparently fiscally broken, crushed under the legal weight of an organized “community.” Worse, the lady who “owned” the parcel is dead. Gosh, isn’t that enough? You could buy lawyers, kids, so how about hiring a removal crew yourselves?


Then there’s the Montana Artesian fiasco. I crunched the numbers for you in 2017. Here’s some more. Yes, it was a new water right, but it was from the deep aquifer, a literal 30-by-10 mile underground lake, with inflows of 213,000 acre feet (AF) a year, current pumping about 23,500 AF, with 190,000 AF yet unappropriated (available for beneficial use).

Objectively, there was really no reason to deny the permit. The neighbors just didn’t want water trucks on “their” roads and/or their views messed up by Mr. Weaver using his property as he saw fit. So they formed a nonprofit in order to be able to take a tax deduction for their legal fees, and away we went. Eventually, the right judges were found (in another county, and later, here).

For me, the biggest disappointment was the ballot initiative, which retroactively spot-zoned the bottling plant. Clearly, too many Flathead voters have a double standard, falling to whimsy when they should be standing on principle.