After its defeat two years ago, the water rights compact for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes was finally passed by the Montana Legislature in April after becoming one of the 2015 session’s most controversial bills.
But in Northwest Montana, many opponents of the complex water agreement aren’t giving up just yet.
Nearly 100 of them gathered Wednesday night in Kalispell to meet members of Regulatory Lawfare Relief, an new anti-compact organization created by 2012 Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Fanning.
The group includes state Rep. Matthew Monforton, New York attorney Lawrence Kogan and Indian affairs speaker Elaine Willman.
Despite the state’s ratification of the compact, it must still pass at the federal level before it can become law.
Kogan said an important part of the group’s strategy will be elevating the water compact issue to the national level, then leveraging media pressure to convince federal lawmakers to oppose it.
To that effect, he spoke for more than an hour, tying the compact to issues ranging from the transfer of Kerr Dam and alleged state and tribal corruption to Agenda 21 and what he termed the “socialistic European agenda” of the Obama administration.
“There is a very big connection between the CSKT water compact and the soon-to-be-conveyed Kerr Dam,” Kogan said, referring to the upcoming transfer of the dam license to the tribes. “The [Bureau of Indian Affairs] is unaccountable, and now you have the CSKT taking control of the dam, and they’re unaccountable too.”
At the heart of the compact is the divvying up of water rights between agricultural use for farms and ranches and the tribes’ minimum flow requirements for bull trout habitat. Many irrigators in and around the Flathead Indian Reservation argue the minimum flow requirements will significantly take away from their historic water deliveries.
Referring to the Environmental Protection Agency’s role in shaping and enforcing environmental regulations, Kogan told the attendees that the agreement is an instance of Obama attempting to implement socialist policies at the state and local levels.
“This current government adopts a European Union framework for regulation,” he said. “It assumes the communal interest is much more significant than private interest.”
Three donation jars labeled “Regulatory Lawfare Relief” made the rounds during the three-hour presentation, and Kogan said the group hopes to first raise enough money to cover legal expenses for a last-minute injunction against the compact, which the attorney hopes to file by the end of the month.
He said he is cutting his legal fees in half, to $250 per hour, and will need to spend about 100 hours preparing the injunction request.
The speakers found a receptive crowd, with many audience members voicing their disdain for the administrations of President Obama and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock.
When Kogan said that the state had effectively ceded Montanans’ water rights to the U.S. government, one woman responded, “They lied to us.”
“Do we want our property rights to be further eroded, so our children and grandchildren have to live in the European Union?” Kogan asked.
“No!” came the reply.
Monforton likewise argued that Bullock and Montana Attorney General Tim Fox should be politically targeted for their roles in helping to get the compact through the Legislature.
“One of the first things I figured out is the Hellgate Treaty, on which this [compact] is based, doesn’t apply to any lands east of the Continental Divide,” he said. “It was a lie that was sold to so many of my constituents. ... Governor Bullock and his allies have been echoing those lies over and over again.”
One man shouted, “Get rid of the governor!”
The Republican lawmaker also likened the water compact to the controversial nuclear arms treaty with Iran, taking another swipe at the Obama administration.
“On the one side, you have a party that hates Israel, that hates America, that hates American values, and on the other side you have the Iranians,” Monforton joked, eliciting a round of applause from the crowd.
Monforton and Kogan also urged members of the audience to help them assemble proof of corruption as they continue the fight against the compact.
“There are a number of what I think are corrupt things that took place in the enactment of Senate Bill 262,” Monforton said, referring to the state legislation that ratified the compact.
Reporter Samuel Wilson can be reached at 758-4407 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.