Water compact meeting postponed

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Flathead County Commission Chairwoman Pam Holmquist has postponed the commissioners’ discussion and public comment session planned Wednesday on the proposed tribal water rights compact.

Holmquist said the meeting will be rescheduled for some time in November. She hopes to schedule an evening meeting to allow for more public participation.

At the request of local property rights advocate Russ Crowder, the commissioners had agreed to set aside two hours to talk about the water rights compact involving the Confederated Salish-Kootenai Tribes.

After learning that attendance at the commissioners’ meeting could be 200 to 300 people, Holmquist said it was clear a bigger meeting room — probably at the Flathead County Fairgrounds — will be needed to accommodate the crowd.

The capacity of the commissioners’ chambers at the Courthouse is 75 people.

Upon learning about the postponement late Monday afternoon, Commissioner Gary Krueger said he checked with the fairgrounds staff and found the Expo Building would be available on Wednesday.

He said he is puzzled why Holmquist wants to postpone the discussion to November — she mentioned Nov. 19 as a possibility in an email to the other two commissioners — when the compact negotiations may be over and any input from Flathead County may no longer be relevant.

Holmquist said “it never crossed my mind” to see if the fairgrounds was available for Wednesday, and said she was sticking with her decision to postpone the discussion.

The proposed compact would quantify the tribes’ water rights and spend millions of dollars to improve the Flathead Indian Irrigation Project, but opponents argue it may impair landowners’ water rights and usage.

The controversial compact is expected to be considered by state lawmakers when the Legislature convenes in January.

Holmquist has drafted a letter to the Legislature’s Water Policy Interim Committee that she will ask her fellow commissioners to sign. That letter states that “Flathead County believes that a compact should be negotiated, but does not support the compact as it is currently written.”

It also notes that the commissioners support the county’s state legislative delegation “in their majority consensus of non-support for the compact at this time.”

Late last year, commissioners Krueger and Cal Scott voted to send a letter to the water policy committee, while Holmquist was opposed to the county show of support.

That letter soft-pedaled Flathead County’s support, saying the commissioners supported a compact process but not necessarily the compact as it was proposed a year ago.

In preparation for the discussion that had been scheduled this week, Krueger drafted a letter to Gov. Steve Bullock that he will ask the other commissioners to sign. The letter asserts the importance of water in Flathead County and asks for consideration of a number of priorities as the compact is negotiated.

Features editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 758-4421 or by email at lhintze@dailyinterlake.com.

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