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County sued from both sides over subdivision

| January 17, 2007 11:00 PM

By GWEN ALBERS Western News Reporter

Two groups are suing the Lincoln County commissioners for approving a subdivision for a 70-acre housing development on Farm to Market Road.

Libby developers Don Brown, George Wood and Mike Munro claim the commissioners broke the law by requiring some inappropriate conditions. One included providing $1 million liability insurance if there are problems with a ditch to divert possible flooding due to the new homes near Libby Airport.

"It was a ridiculous requirement," said Rich DeJana, a Kalispell attorney representing the developers known as BWM. "That type of insurance doesn't exist."

The second lawsuit came from neighbors Andrew and Romsey Foote, Dan and Nancy Leavell, Jeff and Lisa Koskela, and Robert and Kathy Halvorsen. They claim the commissioners ignored the law by putting adjoining properties in danger.

"The law is a matter of interpretation," was Commissioner Rita Windom's response to the suits. "We try to follow the letter of the law and hold public hearings as required and make our decision based on information. Sometimes you can't please everybody."

Windom and commissioners Marianne Roose and John Konzen approved the subdivision in December. The developers plan to divide the land into 16 lots ranging from 1.5 to 6.5 acres.

The commissioners faced opposition from the McMillan Neighborhood Conservation Alliance and Homeowners Association, for which Andrew Foote is the spokesperson. More than 50 signed a petition against the development.

Their main concern is for flooding from the McMillan watershed. The area experienced flooding in the 1930s, 1970s and 1990s.

Part of the problem was created in 1945, after an Army B-24 bomber made an emergency landing in the Amish pasture down to Libby Creek. To fly the bomber out, a 4,200-foot runway was built in the field with bulldozers and other heavy equipment.

Irrigation ditches crossing the field were filled or diverted. A one-time 1,000-acre flood plain was condensed into an 80-acre piece of property with no place for the creek to go.

BWM is seeking an undetermined amount of money for damages due to a delay with the project and attorney fees at $175 an hour, according to the suit.

"The best thing we can all do is get this solved," DeJana said. "We view this as not well-thought out conditions. We're certainly willing to talk about them."

Libby attorney William A. Douglas represents the four couples in the other suit. Douglas did not return a telephone call.

The couples are seeking to have the commissioners reverse their decision and cover costs for litigation. According to the suit, Larry Schock, a certified flood manager with Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, said in a report to county planning director Mary Klinkam the channel could have adverse impact on public health and safety.

Mike Hensler with Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks said in another report to Klinkam flooding would be not be catastrophic, but will cause damage, according to the suit.