Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Judge again tosses permit for Creston water-bottling plant

Daily Inter Lake | January 7, 2022 12:00 PM

A Flathead County District Court Judge has ruled that the state unlawfully granted a permit for a water-bottling plant in the Creston area.

The permit is required for the Montana Artesian Water Company to discharge its wastewater into the Flathead River from its plant.

District Court Judge Amy Eddy issued a ruling Dec. 29 saying that the state Department of Environmental Quality unlawfully granted the discharge permit after failing to evaluate the potential environmental impact resulting from the water company’s operations.

The nonprofit Water for the Flathead’s Future, along with residents Amy Waller, Steven Moore and Cynthia Edstrom, are suing the state Department of Environmental Quality and the Department of Natural Resources challenging the two permits — for water usage and wastewater discharge — the state agencies issued allowing the water company to operate its bottling plant.

Judge Eddy ruled that the discharge permit should be thrown out after DEQ failed to abide by the Montana Environmental Policy Act when reviewing the permit.

The water group in August asked the court to revoke both permits after the Montana Supreme Court ruled that was an appropriate remedy for violating state environmental law.

A district judge in Helena this fall said the state DNRC erred when it issued a water-use permit to the Montana Artesian Water Co. in 2017 saying the Montana Artesian didn't provide sufficient data, required by the DNRC's own rules, for the agency to conduct a valid scientific analysis and justify issuing the permit.

In July 2021, Eddy found that the DEQ improperly granted the company a wastewater discharge permit after a review process that was “arbitrary and capricious.” Eddy sent both of the bottling plant’s permits back to the DNRC and DEQ to correct deficiencies in their environmental reviews saying that DEQ failed to take a “hard look” at the environmental impacts of issuing the wastewater permit despite concerns raised by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The bottling plant has been tied up in litigation for several years with opposition from neighboring landowners, Water for Flathead’s Future and the Flathead Lakers.

IN A RELATED case, the Montana Supreme Court on Jan. 19 is set to hear arguments regarding appeals to a previous decision in Flathead District Court that found a ballot measure aimed at limiting land uses along Egan Slough in the Creston area including the bottling plant as legal. Voters approved the measure that looked to limit land uses in the Egan Slough Zoning District, but the county allowed the bottling plant to continue operations.

The lawsuit began in 2018 when the Egan Slough Community, Yes! For Flathead Farms and Water and Amy Waller filed a suit against Flathead County Commission, the county planning department, the Flathead City-County Health Department and Montana Artesian Water Company.

The county says the plant is granfathered in as a nonconforming use. The water company argues that the new zoning district is illegal.

Features editor Heidi Desch may be reached at 758-4421 or hdesch@dailyinterlake.com.

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