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Federal attorneys speak to irrigators in special meeting

ST. IGNATIUS — At a special Flathead Joint Board of Control meeting on June 19, Duane Mecham, senior attorney with the U. S. Department of the Interior, Portland, Ore., office, attorney Jennifer Frozema from the same office and Travis Teegarden, Bureau of Indian Affairs attorney, met with board members, irrigators and interested parties at the FJBC building in St. Ignatius. The meeting was so packed with people that many had to stand.

While the federal government does not have any specific position on the water rights issue, Mecham said federal courts have ruled that the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, by reserving in the 1855 Hellgate Treaty the exclusive right to hunt and fish on reservation, are entitled to on-reservation reserved water right for instream flows. At issue is how much water, so the quantity issue will have to be resolved.

Also bull trout need to be protected under the Endangered Species Act. While bull trout are primary species needing protection, the agency also considers other species, such as grizzly bears. 

The meeting came on the heels of both Jocko and Mission Irrigation District representatives withdrawing from the FJBC. Chair Boone Cole said the FJBC is “fact finding,” asking irrigators for their concerns over the water compact, which was not ratified by the Montana State legislature.

The meeting lasted about three hours with people commenting and asking questions about the water compact.

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