A Flathead County judge has ordered county commissioners to reconsider a zoning change they denied last year, which could be a setback for a proposed water bottling plant outside Kalispell.
In his summary decision last week, district judge Robert Allison said county commissioners’ denial of the zoning change was lacking in facts and foundation, unreasonable and an abuse of discretion.
The change was requested by a majority of neighboring landowners in 2016 in an attempt to prevent the water bottling plant’s operation.
Allison ordered the commissioners to review and address all public comments, and consider the Flathead County Growth Policy, in their reconsideration.
Amy Waller lives in the Egan Slough neighborhood in Creston, near where the bottling plant is gearing up for production.
"The purpose of the Egan Slough zoning district that presently exists and that we want to join is to preserve the agricultural character of the area and to prevent incompatible uses that would threaten the future of farming in the area," said Waller.
Members of the Egan Slough community say the area’s prime farmland is endangered by Montana Artesian Water Company’s plans to bottle potentially hundreds of millions of water bottles a year. The company’s owner says he does not plan to use the entirety of his water right.
Neighbors say the bottling plant could draw down existing wells, lower property values and damage soil and water currently used for farming.
The zoning change proposal now goes back to Flathead County commissioners. Commissioner Philip Mitchell says the board will address the issues raised by the judge and answer all public comments, but there’s no timeline at the moment.
In June, voters will get a chance to add 530 acres on which the bottling plant now sits to the Egan Slough zoning district. Ballot initiative 17-01 is backed by Yes! for Flathead Farms and Water.
Meanwhile, two other groups have filed objections with the state over the bottling company’s water right permit.
A spokesperson for the company could not be reached before deadline Monday.