Bottling-plant founder won’t testify at hearing

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Lew Weaver with the well at Montana Artesian Water Company’s facility near Creston (Patrick Reilly/Daily Inter Lake)

The record of the water-use permit hearing for the Montana Artesian Water Company will close Oct. 31 and the next phase of the permitting process will begin.

Montana Artesian’s controversial request to withdraw up to 710 acre-feet of water per year was the subject of a three-day courtroom-style hearing last month. While attorneys from both sides presented evidence and cross-examined expert witnesses, the Creston company’s founder, Lew Weaver, never took the stand.

The hearing’s audio record shows that on the hearing’s first day Sept. 19, attorneys from both sides had agreed to begin cross-examining Weaver the following day. That night, however, he suffered a medical emergency and could not attend. While the hearing’s proceedings concluded on Sept. 21, the record remained open.

Attorneys from both sides addressed this matter in a conference call Wednesday.

Weaver’s attorney, Rick Tappan, told hearing examiner David Vogler that “we have taken a hard look at the [hearing] notes...and we don’t need to call Mr. Weaver at this time,” adding that Weaver was not under subpoena. John Ferguson, one of the objectors’ attorneys, protested, saying that he would have liked the opportunity to cross-examine Weaver.

But Vogler, citing the lack of a subpoena, decided that Weaver “cannot be compelled to testify in a direct capacity for any other party...In addition, Mr. Weaver, having never been examined by his own counsel cannot be subjected to any cross examination.”

“Mr. Weaver is not required to testify in this matter.”

Vogler has set an Oct. 31 deadline for the receipt of closing briefs. The record is now closed, except for receipt of those briefs and a transcript.

According to DNRC communications officer John Grassy, Oct. 31 begins a 90-day period in which Vogler can either grant the permit, grant it with modifications, or deny it. In previous interviews with the Daily Inter Lake, Weaver and his consultant, Darryl James, have not indicated any potential next steps.

But Deirdre Coit, who chairs the objectors’ group Water for Flathead’s Future, said she expects the dispute to escalate to district court.

Reporter Patrick Reilly can be reached at preilly@dailyinterlake.com, or 758-4407.

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