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Irrigation board supports fourth district

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ST. IGNATIUS — Several issues were discussed during the Flathead Joint Board of Control meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 14.

FJBC Commissioner Jennifer Kaplan was sworn in as the meeting got started. She is now one of the representatives for the Jocko District.

Commissioner Ted Hein asked the FJBC to vote on a motion to support the Camas Hot Springs area in its effort to become an irrigation district, and the vote passed. He emphasized that the board was only voting to show their support.

Hein said he doesn’t want to separate from the FJBC but thinks that the Camas area needs more representation on the board. The Flathead District currently represents the Camas area.

If Camas becomes the fourth district on the board, it would have three votes. Hughes is currently the member at large on the board from that area. He said it could take some time to get a new board organized.

The budget was an issue of concern for some commissioners looking at the 2017 figures. A balance for expenses from Rocky Mountain Law Partners was added to this year’s budget from past years. It was thought that the firm was paid in full, but further investigation determined that the yearly contract amount of $15,000 was paid, but a bill of about $5,000 still remained for outstanding expenses like travel and filing fees. The board voted to pass the budget and add those fees to it.

The 2017 Assessment Revenue for the Flathead District is at $442,764, the Mission numbers are at $76,247, Jocko is at $34,768. The FJBC total revenue is assessed at $553,930.

Attorney fees for the FJBC are assessed at $400,848 for 2017. General and administrative fees for several items including office expenses, payroll, mileage, and insurance are at $146,500. The board is in the process of looking for an expert in water rights to handle the adjudication process for the FJBC’s 146 claims.

The Montana Department of Natural Resources sent out a letter saying those rights need to be reviewed and any changes need to be submitted by June 2018 before the issue goes to Water Court for approval.

The process involves sifting through historic data to determine the exact content of those claims. The board is considering hiring hydrologist and water rights specialist Tom Hughes from Helena to work on the project. Hughes said that it would be a “daunting task to get all this accomplished” but he is willing to take it on if the board hires him as an employee to ensure he has legal protection, if needed.

Commissioner Dick Erb said the water rights issues should have been looked at years ago. The board decided to spend a few days considering the options. The board moved on to a report from Wade Shepard, the Compact Implementation Technical Team representative for the FJBC.

After the Compact was ratified at the state level, the state and the tribe were required by law to organize a team to manage Compact implementation while it works its way through the U.S. Congress.

Shepard said the CITT was working on developing maps for livestock water use and water measurement tools.

The FJBC sent Shepard to the CITT meetings in the past as a way of gathering information, but they elected not to have him vote to show the majority of the boards opposition to the CSKT-Montana Water Compact.Shepard said his position would now be more valuable if he were able to vote, so the board elected to allow him to vote on the board for one year. “I don’t have to agree with the Compact to do what’s right for the irrigators,” he said.

The FJBC regular meeting is currently scheduled for 2 p.m. Tuesday, March 14.

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