©2016 Concerned Citizens of Western Montana

THE IRRIGATOR’S RIGHT TO VOTE IS POWERFUL

For many years, irrigators of the Flathead Irrigation Project thought that their agricultural business and property interests were being fairly represented by their elected officials on the Flathead Joint Board of Control.  Irrigators had faith in the board, the board’s consultant, and its attorney.

In 2012, when it was discovered that these parties had reached an agreement that would reduce on farm water deliveries by 50-70%, relinquish project water rights to the US / CSKT, and place all citizens living within reservation boundaries under a board that was accountable to no one, irrigators used the power of their vote in May 2013 to remove the offending commissioners from the FJBC.   It was used again in 2014 when recalls of two Mission District Commissioners were successful.  The voted out commissioners were replaced with individuals committed to protecting the irrigator’s water rights.

Because of the power held by irrigators, the state found it necessary to circumvent the FJBC to “renegotiate” a compact in 2014 with the same onerous provisions of the water use agreement, but without the input or approval of irrigators.

Since then, supporters of the compact have worked hard to make life difficult for the FJBC, including efforts to discredit their decisions.  Recently there have been a rash of letters to the editor, raising questions about the board’s use of irrigator funds for the defense of project water rights, turnover of project management to irrigators, and the low cost block of power.  Compact supporters would like irrigators and the public to believe that protecting the property interests of irrigators is not an acceptable use of irrigator money.  These same individuals would like nothing more than to restore the board to its former make up of a majority of compact supporters.

However no one could have been prepared for a decision by Lake County to not send out ballots to at least 1/3 of irrigators for the upcoming commissioner elections.  Shortly before the ballots were sent out, Lake County officials decided to  reinterpret and enforce a provision of the law requiring irrigators whose land is held in a trust, corporation, or LLC to have a proxy form on file with the elections office.    No form.  No ballot.  No notice.

This decision not only violated the special elections statutes, but also served to disenfranchise irrigators by suppressing their right to vote for irrigation district representatives.

In the midst of all this chaos, commissioners also discovered that the 2015 elections were compromised because the county did not mail ballots to “out of state” owners of property served by the project during that election, again without notification to the electors.

FJBC CANCELS ELECTION BECAUSE IT IS COMPROMISED

In response to the fiasco created by Lake County’s decision, the Flathead Joint Board of Control voted to cancel the election last Wednesday afternoon.   A reasonable person would think that the county would accept the cancellation and work with the FJBC to plan an uncompromised election sometime in the future.

LAKE COUNTY REJECTS FJBC CANCELLATION

But those of us living in Lake County forget that we are living in the TWILIGHT ZONE.  Lake County has refused to accept the cancellation notice , stating that the Flathead Joint Board of Control lacks standing to cancel an election, and is planning to proceed forward with the election in spite of the flawed process, and large number of disenfranchised voters.

FLATHEAD JOINT BOARD RESPONSE

This morning, the Flathead Joint Board submitted this letter to the county, stating once again the reasons for the cancellation and giving them notice that the Joint Board will not honor the result of this election should the county proceed with it.

The ball is now in the county’s court.

WHAT CAN IRRIGATORS DO? 

If Lake County chooses to dig in its heels instead of working cooperatively with the FJBC to resolve the election fairly, it is possible that this issue will need to be resolved in the courts.

Let’s be clear: Lake County officials are entirely responsible for this fiasco and it is their responsibility to ensure a fair and clean election.

Because of the confusion caused by Lake County officials, let your conscience be your guide as to the instant election.  However, if you plan to vote, and in order to ensure that each irrigator is prepared for the next election, whenever that may be called, it is critically important to take the following steps now, to ensure that you will have your vote:

  1. First, verify that for this year, you received a ballot for every parcel of land you own that is served by the FIP. We are getting feedback that this problem may extend beyond the issue of trusts and corporations.  If you have not received your ballots for ANY of your parcels of project land, we ask you to document this information for your records.  It will be helpful for the Joint Board’s records too.  Note: This step only applies to the Mission and Flathead Districts because no ballots were mailed in the Jocko district due to uncontested elections.
  1. If you  did not receive a ballot for every parcel of land you own (in the Flathead and Mission Districts), contact the elections office at 883-7268 to determine the reason why your ballots are missing.
  1. Complete the required proxy form if necessary – If the reason for a missing ballot is that you reside out of state or have your property designated as a trust, partnership, or corporation, it will be necessary for you to complete this form, have it notarized, and take it directly to the Elections Office in Polson to get your Ballot for the parcels in question. The elections office will give you the ballots upon receipt of the form, and if you so choose, you can vote your acreage at that point in time.

Note:  It is recommended that you complete one form that lists all of the parcels you own that are in question.

  1. For landowners who did not receive a ballot for lands that are owned by an individual, but who want to vote, because of the county’s May 3rd deadline, we recommend you drive to the election office to receive your ballot and vote it while at their office.
  1. For anyone who did not receive a ballot who would like to file a complaint with the Montana Secretary of State, click on this link to do it electronically.
  1. Contact the Flathead Joint Board of Control with questions at 745-2090 or check their website at http://www.flatheadjointboardofcontrol.com/.

SUMMARY

We began this post by discussing just how powerfully irrigators have used their vote to make sure their water and property rights are protected.

Irrigators know it and so do proponents of the compact.

By all appearances it seems that outside forces are once again trying to work against irrigators to accomplish an agenda that most irrigators do not agree with, and to stop efforts by the Joint Board to protect the irrigation community’s interests.

This is a travesty and speaks to the corruption that seems to permeate throughout Montana.  Irrigators and non-Irrigators alike no longer have the luxury of voting people into office expecting these officials to do the right thing.   As many of you know, our county government has not been our friend in the water compact battle.  To the best of our knowledge they continue to support the water compact as it is written.   We must remain vigilant, and speak out when these types of injustices occur.

We ask each irrigation project landowner to document any missing ballots and take steps to make sure that your voice is not stifled in this election, or any other.

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