Ravalli Republic: Anti-Zoning Mouthpiece

by jhwygirl

The Ravalli Republic published an article Thursday regarding Tom Robak’s fight with Ravalli County over his home which the county is saying is built within the floodway. This battle has been going on for more than a year now, and is well-known outside Ravalli County. The Ravalli Republic frames Robak’s self-imposed woes as something brought on by zoning regulations and recent land use planning activity:

Although its controversial growth policy was repealed at the ballot box two weeks ago, Ravalli County’s struggle over land-use planning continues to play out on a remote riverbank and in a city courtroom.

In 2000, Tom and Charlotte Robak bought three acres along the West Fork of the Bitterroot River and started mapping out their dream home, years before the county began crafting proposed streamside setbacks in mid-2007.

That’s when the Robaks started framing their 4,600-square-foot log mansion a few yards from the river’s banks about 15 miles southwest of Darby.

It’s also when Tom Robak, an ardent property rights activist, started speaking out at the county Streamside Setback Committee’s public meetings, which he considers a government intrusion on landowners’ rights.

In reading just that short bit of falsely-framed ink, the lead-in to the article, the impression is given that the county is going after Robak due to streamside regulations the county is working to enact.

Read through the entire article, and there is nary a mention that the laws that Robak is alleged to have violated are regulations and authority that the state have had in place for decades.

Montana’s floodplain regulations are in place to comply with FEMA requirements regarding development within areas that are subject to flooding. By enacting these regulations, Montana ensured that its citizens were able to purchase and participate in flood insurance coverage that is backed by the federal government. Without the ability to purchase flood insurance, and homeowner is pretty much left out in the cold. Or in deep water.

The idea behind these regulations – why there are floodplain regulations – is that structures that are located within the floodway can, when flooded, break away from foundations and float down the floodway and destroy city, county, state and federal infrastructure like bridges and roadways and utilities. Loose floating homes present other dangers to other properties downstream – not to mention lives.

In other words – there are darn good reasons why we have floodplain regulations.

Further – any county that fails to enforce these floodplain regulations can cause its citizens the loss to the right to participate in FEMA’s flood insurance program. That would be everyone’s ability to obtain or keep their floodplain policy.

But – you wouldn’t know that by reading the Ravalli Republic’s story on Tom Robak’s home which appears to be built in the floodway. In fact, reading all of the ink that has been written on Robak’s castle that he built mere feet from the Bitterroot River – not the tamest of rivers in terms of wanting to stay where it is, any Bitterrooter knows – you’d never know that his woes are associated with those regulations…you only get the sense that the county is trying to persecute this poor guy because he hates streamside setbacks. Because he’s the money and founder behind the Big Sky Coalition.

The Big Sky Coalition is one of several anti-zoning, anti-streamside setbacks, pro-uncontrolled growth groups in Ravalli County. According to the Ravalli Republic, though, the Big Sky Coalition is a “new breed of environmentalist” for Ravalli County.

Make you feel warm-n-fuzzy?

Kinda makes me wonder how much money Robak and his Big Sky Coalition is putting into advertising down there in Ravalli County’s only daily newspaper, doesn’t it?

Going further, in terms of reporting the specifics of Robak’s floodway-located home, and the potential that it may have to be removed, the newspaper makes no mention of another home that was recently moved and relocated after having been built within the floodway, nor another (as I hear it) that is under the same type of scrutiny.

No – it’s all about poor pityful Thomas Robak and the spiteful situation he faces with the ever repressive regulators.

It’s hard to eliminate bias – I’d be pot, kettle, black if I didn’t admit that – and on that note, no one is coming to read this blog expecting completely unbiased opinion, right? – but you’d think in somewhere in all the ink that the Ravalli Republic has given this story – more than once – that they’d take the time to educate its readers on exactly the regulations that are at play here – that the regulations at play, and the enforcement of the regulations, are something that affects probably 85% or more of Ravalli County residents (those that have to have flood insurance), and that the regulations that Robak is allegedly in violation of are regulations that are in place in every county in Montana.

Otherwise, they are willingly feeding anti-zoning and anti-land use planning sentiments/sediments, and playing the willful mouthpiece of those people – and not accurately reflecting the actual facts of the news they are reporting.

  1. goof houlihan

    You’re like Dawn Coyote tiltin at the windmill.

  2. klemz

    A new breed of environmentalist that doesn’t care about the environment–a species not unlike knapweed in either prevalence or ecological suitability to the Northern Rockies.

  3. Jim Lang

    4600 square feet? I hope they are opening an orphanage or something.

  4. Big Swede

    You’re right, 4600 sq ft is going to create a lot of jealousy. Instead of the mansion he should have installed a 40 unit trailer court with a couple school busses converted into living quarters.

    Then if a flood came, they could hook up or drive outta there.

  5. Matthew Koehler

    You know you’re a “Common Sense Environmentalist” when:

    1) You build your $1,000,000, 4,600 square foot log mansion in the floodway of the West Fork of the Bitterroot River, just a few hundred feet up-river from a public bridge.

    2) You own a helicopter (See: http://montana.aircraftdata.net/record/8626F/robak-thomas-l.aspx)

    3) When you’re a member of the San Luis Obispo (CA) Yacht Club (see: http://www.slyc.org/Foghorn/Nov/Foghorn%2011%202007.pdf and on Page 6 it notes that last December 7th the Bar Hosts were Char and Tom Robak.)

    4) When you blame environmentalists for all forest fires and call for NEPA (our nation’s bedrock environmental law) to be suspended so more logging can occur on public lands.


    Come to think of it, maybe Robak figures his Yacht Club membership will come in handy since they built their home in the floodway.

    Reminds me of nursery rhyme:

    Ro, Ro, Robak your house
    gently up the stream…

  6. That house is ridicously close to the river. I waded that stretch when the footings were going in and I remember thinking, “You’ve got to be kidding me? It’s going to be awful cold headed to the outhouse in the dead of winter, because there is no way they should have a septic permit.” That shows you what I know.

    You beat me to the punch on this article, jhwygirl.

  7. What’s the bet he puts in riprap, next. You know, the stuff that channelizes the floodwaters so that some chump downstream gets flooded out instead of you?

    Does Robak know that he doesn’t own the waterway, nor control the water?

  8. I’m betting that if he does realize that he doesn’t own it, he probably thinks he can buy it.

    I’m thinking he wanted to riprap it this spring, but wasn’t allowed.

  9. Rob

    This Ravalli Republic article hits on the very issue that runs rampant, not only in Ravalli County, but Montana in general. This notion of private property rights. Yes, it is true we are all give this bundle of sticks when we buy property. However, there are limits as noted in our own state Constitution. It states, “..all persons have certain inalienable rights…they include…possessing and protecting property…In enjoying these rights, all persons recognize corresponding responding responsibilities.” Art. II, Sec. 3, Mont. Const. In Ravalli, the common theme appears to be “it’s all about ME, to hell with everyone else!” They understand “possessing and protecting property’ but gloss over “in enjoying these rights, all persons recognize corresponding responsibilities.” Some may ask, “well, what does corresponding responsibilities mean?” While I don’t know for sure, I would bet it means our rights are limited to that that does not “harm” others. We have a duty to consider how our actions affect those around us. Certain citizens of Ravalli County need to be educated on the limits regarding their property rights. They are NOT absolute, as they may believe! But then again, they need be open-minded enough to listen, which I suspect will not be the case.

  10. Lizard

    The arrogance of wealth is a national characteristic. When it manifests locally, the disregard for others is uncomfortably clear. Robak is just behaving like any other wealthy person who assumes the rule of law shouldn’t apply to them.

    These assholes don’t live the day to day reality most of us recognize. Like a CEO of a car company flying the corporate jet to DC to beg for a few billion dollars, they just don’t understand how their unsustainable business practices are leading all of us toward the cliff of national insolvency.

    Until laws apply to everyone, and are enforced fairly, the Robak’s and Lipson’s will continue doing what they want, where they want, whenever they want to do it. And don’t be surprised when struggling newspapers desperate for revenue appear reluctant to bite a hand busy feeding them.

  11. I wanted to thank Mr. Koehler for making me laugh so f–king hard I just spilt my coffee all over myself when I got down to the line about the boat club and nursery rhyme.

    Thank you Matt. I was having a shitty morning and your post totally changed that.

    The nursery rhyme shit will never leave my memory.


    Still LOL!

  12. John Cramer

    jhwygirl: Thank you for your comments on this story, but regarding your two main points:

    The story’s lead presented the Robaks’ perspective — not the paper’s — that they’re being targeted by county officials.

    The story did refer to federal, state and local floodplain regulations and federal flood insurance requirements.

    I’m sorry if those two points weren’t clear to you.
    -John Cramer
    Ravalli Republic

  13. goof houlihan

    The Robaks and the Anon. Whistleblower have much in common.

    I’ve always enjoyed the “perspective” of the Flat Earth society. However, I don’t expect their “perspective” to be presented in any serious publication without accompanying more plausible alternatives.

  14. Wow John. If you want to try and reframe what you wrote, well, hell, go right ahead.

    Saying it won’t make it true, and I don’t think anyone here is going to buy it.

    But if it sells papers for your employer, and that is apparently all that matters, keep on keeping on.

    On the other hand, if you want to try and claim “fair and balanced” and all that, why not write a story from the County Commissioners or Floodplain Officer or State Civil Engineer’s perspective?

    I know – crazy, right?

  15. John Cramer

    jhwygirl: Thanks for your colorful response.

    But again, if it wasn’t obvious to you, county and state officials don’t comment on ongoing litigation, which is why the deputy county attorney presented the county’s position on the chronology of the case, the federal floodplain insurance program requirements, the potential impacts, etc.

    The story was a brief overview of a lengthy case, the applicable regulations and the two parties’ perspectives, but I’m sorry if those fundamentals weren’t clear to you.

    -John Cramer
    Ravalli Republic

  16. Will Moss

    Wow, jhwygirl! It must be AWESOME to get the opportunity to anonymously bash overworked and understaffed journalists. Have you ever actually met any of the THREE journos who work their asses off to keep the citizens of Ravalli County informed? I’m guessing not. But, whatever, they’re not real people, right? Just names on a story. Ahh Hamilton! Where Missoula and Darby collide! BOOM!!!

    Will Moss
    Corporate Mouthpiece

  17. Will Moss

    I forgot to mention that YOU ROCK!

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