A decision by the Flathead County Commissioners on Monday to elect Commissioner Pam Holmquist the vice chairperson of the Egan Slough Planning and Zoning Committee perturbed residents who believe the position should be held by a resident of the zoning district east of Kalispell.
Holmquist, nominated by fellow Commissioner Phil Mitchell, was elected instead of current committee member Charles Hanson. John Waller with Yes! For Flathead Farms and Water was elected chairperson, and Flathead County Treasurer Adele Krantz, who lives in the Egan Slough Zoning District, will serve as committee secretary. The committee elections were part of the Egan Slough committee’s annual meeting held at the commissioners’ chambers.
Mitchell said he felt the decision was fair, considering two of the three positions up for election were filled by Egan Slough Zoning District residents.
But the decision to elect Holmquist was described as “disgraceful” by many people attending Monday’s annual meeting of the Egan Slough committee, who alleged the commissioners have failed to consider the desires of district residents in the past.
The Egan Slough Zoning District, which was expanded last year through a voter initiative to include the Montana Artesian Water Co.’s bottling facility, continues to be a hotbed of controversy.
In June 2018 Flathead County voted 70 percent in favor of an initiative that expanded the Egan Slough district to include the bottling facility in hopes the district’s zoning regulations would halt the plant’s operations. However, last month an investigation conducted by the Flathead County Planning and Zoning Office concluded the Creston-based plant is grandfathered and can continue its permitted operations, despite regulations imposed by the newly expanded district. The plant is currently running, according to commissioner Mitchell.
Flathead resident Holly Keefe said the January decision was “disgusting,” and said those best fit to run the committee are Egan Slough district residents. Another local said the decision “totally disregarded the wishes” of the people who elected the commissioners.
Other Egan Slough residents cited environmental concerns over the facility, which is capable of producing more than one billion water bottles annually. One woman said she is concerned for the health of her family, who built a house downriver of the bottling plant.
Vice chairperson nominee Charles Hanson agreed. He said he does not believe in “absolute property rights,” in which another person’s activities on their property interferes with the “quality of life” on another person’s.
Water for Flathead’s Future, another citizen group that opposes the bottling plant, issued an advisory prior to Monday’s annual meeting, saying “we do not think the county commissioners have operated in good-faith regarding the Egan Slough Zoning District’s efforts to protect our farms and water from the bottling plant.
“We strongly believe the citizen members should chair the commission, as well as serve as vice-chair,” the advisory stated.
Egan Slough district resident Charles Jaquette defended the January decision, saying he is “100 percent for property rights.”
“We should be able to do what we wish with our land,” Jaquette said.
The Egan Slough Zoning District was created in 2002 through a citizen-initiated zoning effort. It is governed by a seven-person board that includes two citizen members and five county officials — all three county commissioners, the county treasurer and county clerk and recorder.
Reporter Kianna Gardner can be reached at 758-4439 or firstname.lastname@example.org.