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Polson Commission votes against de-annexation

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POLSON — By a vote of five to two, the Polson City Commission defeated a resolution to de-annex around 70 acres at the top of Polson Hill. The vote, held during the regular meeting April 4, was preceded by a lengthy discussion about the pros and cons of removing lots one and three of the Knife River Annex from the city. 

Lyle and Shelley Smith, owners of OH Well Drilling and Pump, initially asked the commission to consider de-annexation in March and laid out their plans to build a motorcoach resort at the site. The property was originally annexed in 2014 as part of a larger parcel added at the request of several landowners. 

When Smiths bought the property, they believed it was part of the county. However, they later discovered that it is part of the city, and any development would require hooking up to city water and sewer, a move that could cost from $480,000 to $1 million, if they could secure relevant easements. 

They’ve requested de-annexation due to the expense of running water and sewer lines to the property and because the parcel already has a productive well, capable of meeting the needs of their proposed development. 

The issue is further complicated by the status of pending water rights on the Flathead Reservation. According to Mikel Siemens of Core Water Consulting in Kalispell, a water right was issued for the Smiths’ well in 1988 and expanded in 1993 for both industrial and household use. 

The proposal to change the existing use would have to be approved by the new Flathead Reservation Water Management Board, which is not yet fully operational. 

At the same time, the City of Polson has discovered it will need permission from the Water Board to increase the size of its service area to include the annexed acreage. Each side spoke to the challenges the other might face in gaining approval from the board. 

“We each disagree on who has the more arduous task,” said City Manager Ed Meece.

Landowner Shelley Smith argued that access to city water should have been in place when the property was annexed eight years ago. “Holding back this project when the city can’t legally serve us with water anyway is the biggest thing to look at,” she told the commission. “We have a well and you don’t have the water rights to serve us.” 

Lake County had also tried to purchase the property in hopes of using the well for a community water system since several homeowners in the area have limited access to water. 

Commissioner Bill Barron, who was on hand for last week’s meeting, argued for releasing the property from annexation. “To have a well like that and not use it would be a travesty,” he said. “It would be a huge benefit to the county to be able to develop a water district out there.”

Tony Isbell, one of two commissioners who voted in favor of de-annexation, emphasized the positive impact an RV park might have on the local economy. The additional cost to the property owners of linking to city water and sewer seemed unfair, he noted, especially when other developers could then piggyback on their efforts.

“I want to see the town up and on the rise,” he said. “It doesn’t feel right to have them (the Smiths) carry the entire burden when they’re trying to start a business that would bring more people and more money to town.” 

He pointed out that the parcels proposed for de-annexation are located at the very edge of Polson. “If our city services were closer it would be a different conversation.” 

Mayor Eric Huffine also voted for de-annexation.

The majority of commissioners, however, weren’t persuaded to remove the acreage from the city. 

Jan Howlett worried about the safety of an on-site septic system. “As the city grows, I have a real problem with that,” she said. “Polson is not going to be a small town. I’m very worried about how things are done and what effect it will have in the future.” 

Commissioner Carolyn Pardini had recently attended a planning seminar that urged participants to look two decades ahead when making decisions about the future of their community. “Twenty years down the road we might be glad to have that space,” she said.

She also argued that paved streets, sidewalks and a sewer connection are vital components of the cityscape that “will never be developed if it’s de-annexed.” 

“I’m supportive of seeing continuity of services going up the hill there,” said Commissioner Brodie Mall in voicing his opposition to the resolution. 

Also voting against de-annexation were commissioners Jake Holley and Laura Dever.


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