Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Water Compact objection period extended

Daily Inter Lake | December 18, 2022 12:00 AM

The objection period in response to the Confederated Salish Kootenai Tribes’ (CSKT) water compact with the United States and the State of Montana has been extended for 60 days to Feb. 9. As of Dec. 8 about 250 people had filed 250 objections to the compact with the Montana Water Court.

The Water Court issued a preliminary decree on June 9, 2022. The preliminary decree objection period closed on Dec. 6, but numerous parties filed requests for an extension. Some claimed that they did not receive notice of the decree. There were also objections which asserted that the decree was too complicated, and there was too little time to understand the compact's meaning fully, according to documents from the Water Court.

The Water Use Act authorized the court to allow extensions for “good cause shown,” according to the Water Court.

“Many extension requests provide little detail, and some are framed more in the form of an objection rather than a request for extension. Most of the requests received do not request a specific amount of time for an objection extension,” the court wrote in a release.

To qualify for an extension, the Water Court had to identify unique obstacles, problems, or circumstances that prevented them from filing timely objections. A response on Nov. 28 from the the compacting parties – CSKT, the State of Montana and the United States – stated that they did not oppose an extension within certain parameters.

The Water Court concluded that a 60-day extension was appropriate, with plans to adjust slightly to compensate for weekends. The court will not be granting any further extensions. Those wishing to file an objection should do so by Feb 9, 2023.

In the final days leading up to the objection deadline the CSKT compact became the target of an ad campaign, and a Mineral County official was encouraging the public to object to the compact.

Mineral County Deputy Attorney Wally Congdon, an attorney with a history working on water rights cases, led a public meeting Thursday, Nov. 3, in the Sanders County commission chambers. There, he advocated for individuals, and the county itself, to file objections.

The meeting brought together several dozen people, as attendees lined the walls and watched from the doorway. Congdon made several claims that bordered on conspiracy, insinuating that tribal members donated to U.S government officials' campaigns in order to pass the compact.

“I am grateful for the pioneering spirit of the Equal Water Rights organization, funded by Bill & Irene, LLC, for promoting the message that the Court ‘must reach a reasoned judgment that the compact is not the product of fraud or overreaching by, or collusion between the negotiating parties,’” wrote David Passieri in a letter to the editor that appeared in papers across Western Montana.

The Compact does have supporters however.

“Everyone is entitled to their opinion but history shows us that the invaders moved across this continent killing that which they did not understand, assuming that they were picked by God to teach these lesser people how to be civilized,” wrote Tammy Miller on behalf of the Flathead Reservation Human Rights Coalition in a letter to the editor that appeared in the Leader last week. “We killed bison to drive them onto reservations and even now still think that somehow we know better than Natives do. Are we going to stay ignorant of the harm we have done to Native languages, culture and rights because we fear retribution for our past mistakes?”