Dozens of organizations representing agriculture, conservation, public access, and economic development are banding together to oppose Ballot Initiative 191.
Chuck Denowh from the Montana Group, who’s working with the organizations opposed to I-191, told Northern Ag Network what the initiative would do.
“I-191 is focused on about a 110-mile stretch of the Gallatin and Madison Rivers and it would subject those rivers to the same strict regulations that we usually only see in National Parks and Wilderness Areas. It’s a pretty restrictive initiative, a lot of activities that are currently allowed in agriculture, public access, etc., those would be more limited under I-191,” said Denowh.
Perhaps the biggest impacts of I-191 would be on agriculture. Denowh explains that the initiative prohibits the Department of Environmental Quality from issuing new permits or expanding existing permits.
“There’s a lot of questions about that,” Denowh says. “What happens if somebody is diverting water and needs to go in and fix something? It could have implications on being able to water stock as well. So agriculture in that affected area could be limited. Things that are allowed now, might no longer be allowed.”
The impacts extend beyond the agriculture as well. Denowh says public access would be affected and even roads, trails and highways would not be able to be maintained.
“It certainly was not a very well though through inititave and that’s why there’s such broad opposition to this. Over 50 groups have come out and opposed I-191 and very little support,” Denowh says.
Denowh adds, the Attorney General’s office and the legislature’s water policy interim committee took an unprecedented step on the initiative.
“The attorney general has never seen fit to put a warning label on a ballot initiative like this before,” said Denowh. “He’s essentially saying, voters beware, there are significant impacts on private property owners and local businesses if this initiative goes into effect. The legislature water policy interim committee reviewed the initiative and a majority of both republicans and the democrats on the committee voted to reject I-191 and they placed their own warning label on the petition.”
The Montana Farm Bureau Federation is one of the organizations that has joined the coalition opposed to I-191.
“Our organization has a real concern about I-191 because not only would it keep our state’s farmers and ranchers from growing crops and caring for their animals, but it would devalue neighboring property, prohibit road and bridge maintenance, shut down an entire area of Gallatin County to affordable housing development, and undermine current environmental restoration efforts,” noted MFBF Executive Vice President John Youngberg.
He explained that Montana has some of the strongest water quality laws in the country, but I-191 would circumvent the existing laws and process by overriding the protections that Montanans worked together to put in place.
“Under I-191, Montana Department of Environmental Quality would be prohibited from approving a permit for any new or increased discharge that causes a change in water quality, including only a temporary change. I-191’s sponsors tried before to shut down activity on these rivers, but they were denied by the Board of Environmental Review and the Montana courts,” Youngberg said. “Now they are attempting to set a new precedent that could be used on waterbodies throughout the state. This initiative undermines controls that have been set in place and tosses out any collaboration of groups who worked for years to protect the water. I-191 ignores input from local Montanans who have to live with the consequences of a rule developed by environmental extremists.”
Youngberg noted that the initiative would hurt Montana’s economy by halting agricultural activity, preventing anglers from enjoying the rivers, and stopping any bridge or road repair in the vicinity of the rivers.
Thursday at 6 p.m., the Montana Farm Bureau, Montana Stockgrowers Association, Association of Gallatin Agricultural Irrigators, and Montana Grain Growers Association are hosting a webinar on 1-191.
To register and learn more, click here.