© 2014 Concerned Citizens of Western Montana
As 2014 comes to a close and the 2015 legislature is gearing up, we wanted to reflect on where we have been, and to encourage people to gear up for the battle that lies ahead.
In 2013 Governor Bullock took advantage of an opportunity to keep the CSKT water compact alive when he vetoed Senate Bill 265. Although legislators believed the compact commission would sunset in 2013, the state found a “legal loophole” to keep it alive. This allowed the state to continue to spend money behind the scenes and to hold private meetings to push for an agreement that for all intents and purposes should have died in 2013.
For unknown reasons, once the state of Montana capitulated everything possible to the CSKT in the proposed water compact, there was no looking back. The events that followed were all driven by an agenda to pass the compact DESPITE the flaws, NO MATTER WHAT THE COST TO THE STATE OF MONTANA OR ITS CITIZENS.
The Water Policy Interim Committee (WPIC) became the vehicle of choice to accomplish this goal. After fifty legislators signed and submitted a letter requesting rigorous and independent studies of the compact, the state saw an opportunity to give lip service to studies without answering any of the questions asked by legislators, or addressing any substantive legal or constitutional issues with the compact.
The “narrow reopening” of the compact in 2014 was done for two purposes:
- To insert the illegal and unconstitutional irrigator water use agreement into the compact without the consent of irrigators and
- To give the impression that substantive changes were made to the compact
WPIC chairman Senator Chas Vincent, who has publicly stated that he made his own deal with the tribe in the Kootenai basin, presided over the so called “studies” that took place over the summer of 2014. The committee recommended lipstick in the form of several non-substantive changes to the compact, and SURPRISE, the parties agreed to them.
So we are, once again at the 11th hour, awaiting a “revised compact”, with a legislature getting ready to convene in a week.
Attorney General Tim Fox is trying to lend the credibility of his office to the compact in an attempt to make it appear that the “new and improved” compact will be legal and constitutional.
Representative Dan Salomon and Senator Bradley Hamlett have water compact approval bills ready to be introduced into the session.
The tribal monies for lobbyists, public relations campaigns, and legislator “education” will soon be kicking in. Phony groups such as Farmers and Ranchers for Montana (FARM) are in full swing trying to give someone the impression that the public supports a compact that they haven’t even seen.
The push is on. Buckle up your seatbelts, the road is about to get very bumpy.
WHAT TO EXPECT IN 2015
Like Obamacare, we fully expect attempts to change house rules to make the compact easier to pass in the legislature. If the compact is as good as proponents say it is, why would they need to change the rules to force it down the throats of Montanans?
Be on the lookout for more astro turf organizations and front groups who “support the compact”. This past year, tribal council minutes have been full of references to the hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars being spent to advance the compact.
Don’t forget the ECONOMIC STUDY, paid for by compact proponents and supported by Dan Salomon. It will likely be submitted to the legislature during crucial committee hearings or at another momentum gathering moment.
The powers that be will very likely play games with the money associated with the compact in an attempt to work around the rules that might require a larger number of votes to ratify the compact.
We fully expect every dirty trick in the book to be played before this legislative session has ended, in order to ram the compact through against the will of the people.
WILL LEGISLATORS DO THE RIGHT THING and KILL THIS COMPACT ONCE AND FOR ALL?
WILL THEY SUNSET THE COMPACT COMMISSION NEVER TO BE SEEN AGAIN?
BEYOND THE LEGISLATURE
This we know for sure. From the time the compact was introduced in 2012, the state had no intention of addressing the issues and concerns of a very wary and concerned public. The governor and attorney general have proven that with their recent “agreement” on the compact and the broad media coverage it received.
The state’s actions have clearly demonstrated they have no interest in finding a solution that works for everyone, and that they are banking on the fact that people will not defend their property rights. After all, they know the compact includes a mutual defense clause designed to prevent people from taking action against the compact.
We ask you to join us in Helena when we put out the call for help in stopping the compact in the legislature.
We also ask that you help us to continue preparing an aggressive defense of Montana’s constitution and property rights should the compact pass during the upcoming session.
For more information and to support that legal effort, visit the Montana Land and Water Alliance.