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Mission, Jocko irrigation district members discuss dissolved FJBC

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ST. IGNATIUS – The Mission and Jocko irrigation districts got together for a meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 6, to discuss the dissolved Flathead Joint Board of Control. The Flathead District held a meeting on Monday, Feb. 12 after press time for the week. 

Lake County District Court Judge James Manley ordered the FJBC to dissolve in January after it was concluded that irrigators weren’t given the opportunity required by law to vote as to whether the Mission, Jocko and Flathead irrigation districts should join together in 2014. Mission District Chairman Ray Swenson said at the Tuesday meeting: “This is not the end of the world.” He explained that the individual districts operated independently for about 50 years before first joining together in 1981 and will continue to operate. 

Swenson said the May election to seat one board member in each district would continue as planned. The individual districts both voted to allow the Lake County Election office to hold the election, which was stated as protocol required for the election. 

Swenson said he met with the Flathead District at an earlier time and the only issue with the separation of the three districts concerned the procedure for paying the former joint board secretary. It was decided through a verbal agreement that the secretary would continue to work to collect signature forms and designation letters for the May election. She is separating the forms by district. The districts will discuss the procedure for paying the secretary at a later meeting. The joint boards' attorneys were called and told to cease and desist.  

Swenson addressed the irrigators at the meeting and said individual districts couldn’t take action to reform as a joint board. Irrigators would have to create a petition and collect signatures to get the reformation put on an election ballot, and then, irrigators would be able to vote on the issue. If the majority of irrigators support the reformation, the individual districts could join together again.

“We can reform or stay separate,” Swenson said. He opened the meeting up to public comment to find out what people thought about the issue. 

Jocko District member Dean Brockway said separating the three boards was “the best thing to ever happen.” He continued to say that he fought for a ruling in the past because he wanted to know if the board had formed legally and was concerned about tax funds being spent if they hadn’t formed legally. 

Individual members of the public stood up to say they wanted the districts to operate individually and others said they wanted the board to reform. It was also said that if the districts remain separate pumping costs for project water could be allocated to the district that uses it instead of being divided among the districts.

Mission District board member Tim Orr said the joint board was formed in 2014 (now found to be illegal) on the advice of the attorney at the time. He said the districts were in a hurry to form as a joint board in the hopes of getting the federal government to turn over the operation of the Flathead Indian Irrigation Project back under local control to benefit irrigators. The Bureau of Indian Affairs currently has control of the project.

One irrigator mentioned that the next irrigation season is coming soon, and he wanted to know who to call if there were problems since the joint board doesn’t exist anymore. Swenson said people should call their district representatives.

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