Potential growth plan faces resistance
By KYLE McCLELLAN The Western News
Private property rights in the Yaak fueled a heated discussion Wednesday night as some Yaak residents voiced their displeasure at efforts to create a growth management plan for the county.
Although the Lincoln County Planning Board, staffed by volunteers from the community, is only gathering public input for the plan, residents nonetheless vented frustration at the board's efforts because they're wary that a plan will open the doors to more stringent rules and regulations.
The Yaak valley is a diverse and largely preserved ecosystem that's a product of the merging of the Pacific Northwest and the northern Rocky Mountain range. It's survival lies at the forefront of the efforts of many scientists and conservationists who are working to maintain its wilderness. It has been described in literature as "Montana's rainforest."
The Yaak, however, is home to about 150 people and more are arriving as Lincoln County is experiencing unprecedented growth.
Residents there aren't burdened by certain regulations that guide the more urban lifestyles of Libby, Troy and Eureka. They identify themselves, in large part, by these liberties and they defended those liberties with elevated energy at the meeting.
"This plan was shoved down the public's throat in the press and through information put out that the state required this to happen. Well, that was shown to be false," said Yaak resident Rhoda Cargill.
Those residents opposed to a possible growth plan cited the results and "unintended consequences" of previously implemented growth plans.
At the heart of the conflict is the resident's aversion to mainly two things—zoning and building permits.
But Lincoln County Commissioner Rita Windom, who was at the meeting, said some of the confusion resulted from area firefighters' requests that the county issue building permits to gauge the impact on the firefighters' services.
"We flatly denied that. The time isn't right for such a thing," Windom said.
The planning board repeatedly emphasized that the aim of a growth plan is to be a "visionary document," not a regulatory policy.
In 2006, the Montana Department of Environmental Quality approved 1,153 lots, the fourth highest in the state and only 152 lots behind Flathead County.
Plum Creek Timber owns more than 460 square miles of land in the county. The private landowner comes in second only to the U.S. Forest Service and holds significant ownership over undeveloped land in the Yaak. The company recently subdivided its land near Bull Lake
But why are those concerned about the sanctity of their private property opposed to a plan that seeks to provide, with public input, order for the unprecedented growth that may spill into areas near their properties?
"That's the $64,000 question," said Mary Klinkam, the director of the county's environmental planning department. "It's amazing how there can be one topic and how people can perceive it in different ways."
She said the planning board desires a simple document that doesn't micro-manage details for every square inch of property."
"The board is adamant about having a small document that doesn't hogtie people," Klinkam said.
When discussing county growth and individual property rights during a June interview, Klinkam said, "I find it at odds to be anti-growth when you really want to protect private property rights. I think maybe there's a fear of losing some open space."