Helena, Mont. – Following months of widespread, bipartisan opposition, proposed Ballot Measure I-191 received virtually none of the required 30,000 signatures needed to qualify for the November ballot. Friday, June 17th was the deadline for all proposed Montana ballot measures to gather signatures. Requests to the five largest Montana county election offices showed only 10 signatures were submitted of the 30,000 needed, and those 10 appear to be collected online, something the Montana Supreme Court ruled against in a case involving the I-191 proponent in May.
I-191 would have subjected large stretches of the Gallatin and Madison rivers, and their tributaries, to regulations only found in national parks and wilderness areas. I-191 was publicly opposed by over 50 Montana groups representing every major sector of the state’s economy, as well a bipartisan majority of Montana Legislators on the Water Policy Interim Committee (WPIC). Respected conservation groups, like Trout Unlimited and the Gallatin River Task Force, also publicly opposed I-191 as it would have stopped ongoing river restoration projects.
Weeks before the signature collection deadline, and amid an investigation of significant campaign finance violations, the sponsors of I-191 announced they were withdrawing their support of the measure. “The original petitioners, Cottonwood Environmental Law Center, Gallatin Wildlife Association, and Montana Rivers have decided not to continuing working on I-191,” wrote Cottonwood’s Executive Director John Meyer in a letter to the Commissioner of Political Practices (COPP). Meyer and these groups were the original sponsors of I-191, submitting the ballot language last December.
The COPP campaign finance investigation will continue despite the signature deadline passing and I-191 failing to make the ballot.
“We are glad Montanans resoundingly rejected I-191,” said Chuck Denowh with the No on I-191 Coalition. “Our diverse coalition representing ag, small business, conservation, access, workforce housing, transportation safety, and more will continue to advocate for collaborative approaches to protecting the Gallatin and Madison Rivers, and are ready to mobilize should the I-191 proponents make another attempt to take away access and harm our local economies.”
“Nearly every segment of our Montana economy depends on clean, healthy water,” said Montana Chamber of Commerce President Todd O’Hair. “Montanans have done a tremendous job of working together to make sure our water resources are protected—that’s why we have some of the toughest water quality laws in the country. That collaborative approach has served us well and is the reason that the radical I-191 initiative failed to gain any traction.”
I-191 would have designated approximately 110 miles of the Gallatin and Madison rivers, and their tributaries, as “Outstanding Resource Waters,” a designation that would prohibit the Department of Environmental Quality from approving permits in the area if even a “temporary” change in water quality would result. The effect would be to shut down many currently-allowed activities, potentially including irrigation, watering livestock, maintenance of roads, bridges, and fishing access sites, and river restoration projects, among others. In light of recent historic flooding, road, bridge, and other infrastructure repair would have been prohibited under I-191.
The Montana Group