© 2013 Concerned Citizens of Western Montana

On Monday September 9th the Mission and Jocko districts of the Flathead Irrigation Project held special meetings to:

    • Rescind their June withdrawal from the Joint Board of Control,
    • Vote to withdraw a second time, and
    • Assess administration charges to their districts.

To the casual observer, this all might sound a little confusing, so here are details along with a little history:

THE DISTRICTS VOTE TO RETAIN ATTORNEYS
On June 6, 2013, the Mission and Jocko districts of the Flathead Joint Board of Control held a special meeting to discuss hiring an attorney.  At the Mission meeting Jerry Johnson said, “it’s not that we have to have one, but in case something comes up, we would like to have one on staff.”

Someone asked, what kind of budget are we anticipating to pay them? Johnson answered “well it’s 200 bucks per hour, the first month maybe $400-$600 to kinda go through the compact and all the stuff that’s went on the last two or three months.  After that it will just be on a per call basis ….that’s my anticipation, and after that it might be one hour at once, two hours at once, depending on where it all goes to, you know what I mean?” 

A member of the public asked if their per hour charges would be going up and they answered “NO, NO…..

The statements made by two of the commissioners in the meeting were intended to give the public the impression that retaining these attorneys was merely common sense, a back up plan just in case the Joint Board attorney resigned in an upcoming meeting.

NOTE: the attorneys subsequently hired by these districts have worked for the CSKT in recent years.  An ethics complaint has been filed against them.  We are unaware of the status of the complaint at the time of this post.

JOCKO AND MISSION DISTRICTS VOTE TO GIVE 90 DAYS NOTICE TO WITHDRAW FROM THE JOINT BOARD
On June 14th the two districts held illegal meetings to withdraw from the JBC.  They were illegal because the commissioners did not comply with Montana open meeting laws.  As a result, the districts were forced to rescind their withdrawal action at their special meeting on September 9th.  They then proceeded to take public comment and voted to withdraw from the Joint Board for a second time.

At the same meeting, the districts dropped a bombshell on irrigators of the Jocko and Mission Districts.  They announced their “surplus funds” had been dwindling, and needed to be built back up to $200,000.  July’s legal fees alone were $24,000.  In order to build their funds back up, they were going to ask for administrative fees of $9.00 per acre compared to the $2.65 currently being charged, a 250% increase!!!  This is on top of the project charge of $26.00 per acre for Operation and Maintenance (O&M).  Irrigator protests that they could lose their homes fell on the deaf ears of the two commissioners in each of the districts who voted for the assessment.

NOTE:  The whole purpose of these districts hiring attorneys and withdrawing from the joint board is to garner momentum for the water compact.  Compact proponents and their supporters hope that passing the irrigator water use agreement for these two districts will give the appearance of strong irrigator support for the compact, which could be the impetus necessary for a special session.  Unfortunately the reality is that these two districts combined only make up 16-17% of the total acreage serviced by the irrigation project, clearly not even close to being a majority of irrigators.  Keep in mind the Joint Board is not responsible for these actions, it is four commissioners, unhappy with the results of the May election attempting to give 360,000 people in western Montana the current proposed compact through their endorsement of the irrigator water use agreement.

It would appear that compact proponents believe the ends justify the means, no matter what the collateral damage to their efforts might be.  The sad truth is the water use agreement and the compact will in fact put irrigators out of business. The recent actions of these districts could very well be an attempt to accomplish that sooner rather than later.

Here’s an example of an elected official, chair of the Mission District, and what he had to say about the withdrawal:

Remember, this is an elected official, responsible to his constituents.  This simple statement was very truthful, and is very telling of the attitudes of the men whose actions have served to do little more than divide the irrigation community.  By ignoring the fact that 2/3 of the irrigators in the room opposed the district withdrawal, these men were clearly not interested in what their constituents wanted.

HOW YOU CAN HELP

  • Attend Joint Board meetings to show your support for their efforts to find a meaningful and fair water use agreement for the project that does not relinquish irrigator water rights to the CSKT
  • The Western Montana Water Users Association is currently asking irrigators in the Mission and Jocko districts to come in and sign a recall petition for each of the four men who participated in these events.  Contact Shelia at 745-4250 or Carol at 745-4451 for more information about the recall.
  • If you are an irrigator in the Mission or Jocko Districts, you might be able to pay your assessment under protest.  Check with the county treasurer’s office to see what the process is to do that.  Their number is 883-7221.
  • Irrigators get involved NOW.  Read the documents, ask questions and get off the fence.  This is the most important battle we will ever face for our water and property rights.  Talk to your commissioners, here is their contact information.
  • Do not allow yourself to be confused by proponents arguments concerning litigation.  While it is likely the CSKT will attempt to be adversarial and will challenge all water rights, an adjudication is nothing to fear and may be the only fair way to settle water rights of western Montana.  This compact is not an equitable division of waters by any stretch of the imagination.
  • Ask compact proponents why they are okay with relinquishing their own and their neighbor’s water rights to the CSKT.  Article III of the Water Use Agreement says:  This Agreement and the Compact specify the terms under which the United States and the FJBC agree to withdraw and cease prosecution or defense of all claims to water, whether arising under Federal or State law, held in their names and filed in the Montana General Stream Adjudication, and whatever permits and other rights to the use of water recognized under State law that are held in their names for use on lands served by the FIIP (Flathead Irrigation Project).
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