Reality Check

They Got the Gold Mine, We Got the Shaft

The location is in an agricultural area occupied by historically significant homesteads that have been in the Flathead for generations

By Tammi Fisher

The Flathead County Commissioners endeavor to purchase 39.1 acres of land to build a countywide septage facility. No one doubts the need for such a facility, but the planning and proposal for this land is ill-conceived. They plan to spend millions of our tax dollars for a project with a 15-year lifespan, which is incredibly shortsighted when the project will permanently change the agricultural nature of Lower Valley. The lifecycle of a septage facility should be at least 30 years for such an investment. The initial investment to purchase the land is three times what the commissioners budgeted. At $1.5 million taxpayer dollars, taxpayers expect the land to be optimal for the intended use. But it’s not. Of the 39 acres, only 22 are developable, as the remaining 17 are located squarely in the flood plain. The location is in an agricultural area occupied by historically significant homesteads that have been in the Flathead for generations. A septage facility, which is an industrial use, will now be located squarely in the middle of farmland. Despite assertions that smell will not be an issue, anyone who has lived near a septage facility can attest that odors are part and parcel of human waste. For nearby farmers who make their living off of producing food the risk of seeping human waste onto their property causes concern. And candor with the public is lacking: During one of the public meetings a photo of a single building from a like facility in Kuna, Idaho, was presented to show the “limited footprint” of the facility. In fact, research indicates the Kuna facility is much larger than what was presented: https://www.kellerassociates.com/our_projects/kuna-mbr-wastewater-treatment-plant/.

If this proposal was so well planned, the commissioners would have purchased property in preparation before the market spiked. Now that they are rolling in Biden Bucks, they are racing to acquire property, no matter the property’s deficiencies. Two public meetings were held about the proposal and Commissioner Brad Abell fell asleep during the second meeting. His excuse was he was up early snow plowing. He fails to recognize that the people he was elected to serve also woke up early to plow snow, then went to their day jobs so they could pay their county property taxes (that went up 20% in 2021), and then went to the public meeting and stayed awake. If Commissioner Abell can’t be bothered to respect the people he represents by staying awake during a public meeting, he should consider another job. The Commissioners earn over $100,000 in salary and benefits, are provided a taxpayer funded vehicle, including gas and maintenance. With all these taxpayer dollars funding salaries and short-sighted pet projects, looks like the commissioners got the gold mine, and left us with the shaft.

Tammi Fisher is an attorney, former mayor of Kalispell and host of the Montana Values Podcast.