Bottling plant opponents appeal water-use permit

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

The long-running dispute over Montana Artesian Water Company’s proposed Creston bottling facility entered a new phase Friday.

Last month, the Montana department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC) granted Montana Artesian a water-use permit to withdraw up to 710 acre-feet of water a year for bottling. On Friday, the opposition group Water for Flathead’s Future appealed that decision in District Court.

In their brief, shared with the Daily Inter Lake, the group’s attorneys argued that the Department’s “administrative findings, inferences, legal conclusion and decision of the Final Order [to grant the permit] are in violation of the Montana’s Constitution and the Montana Water Use Act.”

During the contentious three-day hearing in September that led to this permit being granted, objectors alleged that DNRC failed to adequately evaluate the firm’s plans to withdraw 710 acre-feet of water year-round, and the impact it could have on neighboring water users.

Water for Flathead’s Future chair Deirdre Coit noted that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which operates a fish hatchery in the area, raised similar concerns in a closing brief. “It was so absurd that we didn’t win in the hearings,” she said.

Coit surmised that the DNRC’s David Vogler, who presided over the case, was biased towards his employer, which had already issued a preliminary determination to grant the permit. “We didn’t have an objective party looking at it,” she claimed.

But in an email, Montana Artesian consultant Darryl James said that “we are confident that DNRC made the right decision based on the facts, sound science and consistent application of the law in this case.”

Coit expects that the objectors will win in the courts, but couldn’t give a definite timeframe on the appeal. She said her attorneys had told her that it could take a year.

In the meantime, Coit said that Water for Flathead’s Future has also filed for a stay on Montana Artesian’s operations so that the company can’t start taking water.

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

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