State Supreme Court Says “Yes” to Sprawl

by jhwygirl

A Supreme Court decision issued last week effectively legitimizes sprawl and high-density development outside of high-growth, centralized infrastructure places with sewer and water and fire, such as cities and municipalities.

The plaintiffs in the case, senior water rights holders on the Upper Missouri basin, cited the potential harm to their senior water rights on the Gallatin River as the reason why a community well system should be denied for a high-density development located outside of what is typically required for high-density development: cities and towns with water and sewer infrastructure.

The Upper Missouri River basin was declared a closed basin in 1993. That declaration formalized what was already known: That the water rights in the Upper Missouri basin were over-appropriated. As a result of the closed basin disclosure, a moratorium was placed on all new water applications.

A separate law allows for exemptions to new water rights allocations for municipalities. What this ruling does is it sanctions the removal of a fairly new water rights ARM (36.12.101(36)) that had been enacted as a result of river basin closures.

What is unbelievable to me is that multiple state representatives can speak out against sprawl and testify in several interim committees, as they have been doing this interim session, for rules that would help prevent sprawl and over-allocation of water rights and building in the urban wildland interface (WUI) area, and yet here is the state joining together with a private entity (Utility Solutions, LLC) seemingly to sanction high density development outside of urban areas with appropriate infrastructure such as police and fire services, and water and sewage treatment facilities.

It’s a short-sighted view. Certainly a community system (1 well) is better than multiple wells – but what about all the other services? What about the traffic? The pressure on rural services? The need for more roads? Air quality? Quality of life? And so on and so on?

I also love it how the legislature enacts laws, and then ARM rules are enacted that exempt all kinds of stuff – like 35 gpm wells, which show total disregard for senior water rights and septic mixing zones, which receive little review and can be defacto approved on your property without your approval or having received appropriate compensation.

For me, this is an example of a whole undermining of the legislative process: Elected officials enact laws, and then ARM rules are enacted (or enacted and then withdrawn) that undo that which was done in the legislature.

  1. goof houlihan

    The four corners sprawl is ugly, uncontrolled, and sucking the water out of the west gallatin, while down the road, a package plant is leaking nitrates into the groundwater. We used to joke that the West Gallatin ran bubbly yellow on hockey nights.

    Meanwhile, DEQ focuses only on “point source” pollution and requires cities to standards that remediate not only their pollution, but that of anyone upstream of the discharge pipe.

    The incentives from the state are exactly bass ackwards.

    The worst part of this decision, is the potential for a county to allow dense development on it’s low development standards to surround a city, without requiring annexation. The city becomes landlocked in a ring of low quality crap it cannot provide services to, but the crap will expect city type services. The impact of this decision is very significant on a Missoula, or Helena, or Bozeman, or any city or town trying to enforce standards for road construction and sidewalks and parks and even building codes on the buildings themselves.

    For a long time I’ve asserted that water quality and the state water quality regulators cannot be relied upon to do anything, and I mean anything, about land use. You and I agree 100% about the meaning of this decision. I can only hope that it spurs the electorate of cities and towns to begin to elect county commissioners who will start the process for county wide zoning. Perhaps if county residents who happen to live inside cities pay as much attention to county commission races as they do minor city issues, we might get some commissioners who will control sprawl instead of paying lip service to the situation, or worse yet, actively endorse it.

  2. goof houlihan

    It won’t be the far out sprawl that is so onerous, but the city density but built in the county development, commercial and residential, that will damage our cities so badly.

    Look at Ressler Auto Center out on Huffine lane. In the city, lighting is subject to dark skies ordinances that require full cut off and low trespass. But Ressler, built with county commission approval sprawling out on an already dangerous Huffine, interrupts the night driving with a bright as day car lot that leaks light into the sky and out into the farmland as far as the eye can see, blinding drivers that go from dark to artificial daylight and back again.

    Just an example that isn’t about water, but will be facilitated by the new ruling.

  3. goof houlihan

    Didn’t get much comment, eh, Jhwygirl? Man oh man, it’s this stuff that needs paying attention to. Why no one does is beyond me. I guess if it doesn’t fit neatly into some partisan slot, nobody can grind a pound of the opposite party with it.

    Thanks again for posting this.

  4. And this is the stuff, goof, that few of us take the time to bother and pay attention to. It’s the purpose that I blog – to bring this kind of background noise – disaster – to the forefront, so that people can see the cause of what is crumbling around them.

    Bums me out too. Because you are right (well, not because you are right) – because this type of thing – a shortsighted bureaucratic motion that effectively approves sprawl – has such a huge impact. On quality of life…on taxes for services that will be needed in the outlying areas….on taxes for services that will be needed because all of these sprawly neighborhoods have to have people working, and where do you think they will be working? In cities and municipalities.

    This is government inefficiency at its worse – or will be – and yep – it’s not Democrat or Republican, it’s just plain BAD.

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