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Irrigation board contemplates budget

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ST. IGNATIUS – The Flathead Joint Board of Control is considering hiring a consulting firm to help sort out the issues with the water rights adjudication process before the issue goes to Montana Water Court.

“We are here today because a couple months ago the DNRC sent out letters with adjudication and now they are flooded with responses,” said Roger Noble, hydrologist with Applied Water Consulting.

The process to sort out water claims is being done by the Montana Department of Natural Resources. Once the claims are correctly documented, they will be taken to Water Court for a decision.

Hydrologist Brad Bennett explained at the meeting that the DNRC would examine each water claim using historic documents like aerial photos to verify water claims. If they discover inaccuracies, they will correct them, and send the changes back to the recipient of those claims, and those changes can be disputed with evidence.

“Every issue has to be resolved before the final decree is issued,” said Bennett.

The FJBC is considering hiring the consulting team to help sort out water claims within the Flathead Indian Irrigation Project but funding is an issue. The decision will be based primarily on a financial proposal the consultants are developing.

The 2017 FJBC budget was approved at their Dec. 8 meeting. Operating expenses are budgeted at $553,930; attorney expenses are at $400,848; general administration expenses are at $146,500. It was noted that consulting costs for water rights adjudication work would increase the budget and there is a possibility that there won’t be enough funds to cover such an expense.

Board members addressed the possibility of raising the tax to irrigators by $1 per acre to cover costs for the next year. Board Member Tim Orr said he would like to remind the public that the board kept the fees from going up by $7.50 in the last two years.

“We will have to ask for the dollar,” Orr said. He added that there isn’t enough money in the budget to cover the cost of hiring a consultant to work on the adjudication process and the attorney fees associated with the low-block cost of power with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

A few board members said they would like to see less of the budget going towards legal fees so that there is money for other things.

In other news, the FJBC voted to approve warrants with the exemption of three paychecks going to board members with contested seats. The board is waiting for Judge James Manley to decide if the spring election to seat three new members was valid.

The FJBC voted to appoint Gene Posivio as the secretary of the board until the election matter is settled in court. Shane Orien stepped down from the position, although he retains his seat on the board.

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