Stillwater County citizens initiate petition for zoning district

Stillwater County property owners and members of the Stillwater Protective Association petitioned the County Commissioners, during their Tuesday, Nov. 10, meetings, for the creation of a Citizen Initiated Zoning District and the appointment of a Planning and Zoning Commission for that District.

The intent of the district is to ensure county and private property is protected from potential damages by oil and gas development along the Beartooth Front by establishing fair and reasonable regulations. More than 60% of the property owners who collectively hold over 50% of the District’s proposed land mass have signed the petition.

“Because there are no applicable state and county rules regarding signature matters, our group looks forward to working with the County to reach a reasonable outcome in verifying property owner signatures and in applying the applicable Montana statute allowing for the creation of citizen initiated zoning districts,” said Hank Lischer, a property owner within the District.

“This petition is an incredible opportunity for Stillwater County to plan ahead,” said Kayce Donohoe Arthun, whose family owns land within the proposed District. “This community effort will protect local infrastructure, private property, and our water for future generations, so that when development happens, the companies will be doing it right. This petition also reflects important Montana values such as volunteer efforts to support local communities and self-determination regarding land use.”

In presenting the petition, the landowners brought in an expert in the economics of county infrastructure impacted by oil and gas development and a hydrogeologist knowledgeable about water in the area. The petition is directed only at oil and gas development and will affect no other land use.

Burt Williams, another property owner within the proposed District, said that “Oil and gas activity involves significant burdens and costs that are caused by the oil and gas operators, so this petition seeks to minimize cost-shifting to the County or property owners.

“We believe that granting the petition will also improve employment in our area, encourage responsible oil and gas development, and allow landowners to protect their property and natural resources.

Stillwater Protective Association is a grassroots community organization that advocates for a healthy and sustainable community in Stillwater County. For 41 years, Stillwater Protective Association has educated and mobilized its members to ensure citizens’ voices are heard in the decision-making process.

–Northern Plains Resource Council