Letter to the Editor: County Growth Plan draft should be scrapped

Thursday, November 29, 2018

This letter regards the current draft of the 2018 Stillwater County Growth Plan. The Beartooth Front Coalition has been planning for the possibility of oil and gas drilling along the Beartooth Front for over five years. Because of this, we are disappointed in the current draft of the 2018 Stillwater County Growth Plan.

The county has not reached out to local landowners in a meaningful way for public input into the plan. In 2007, the county sent out thousands of direct mail surveys to residents and held 12 public meetings to solicit input. This year no surveys were mailed out and only four public meetings were held.

The county has not taken advantage of the e-mail addresses of people who have asked for updates on county activities.  This year’s results were predictable: in 2007 residents mailed in 400 surveys expressing their opinions about important planning issues; in 2018 they mailed in only 65.

As a long-term member of the Planning Board put it, the County tried to “keep costs down for an effort that seems to be a formality.” We do not regard planning as “a formality” and neither do other counties in Montana. Carbon County in 2015 engaged with their community in a year-long process that resulted in a comprehensive planning document, full of data and rich with resident input. Most significantly, it provided the basis for a set of regulations that were well considered and met the needs of the community.

We are specifically interested in oil and gas development. This draft provides no significant consideration for the future oil and gas drilling in Stillwater County, or of possible fracking and its likely impact. We believe this is irresponsible. In addition, there is also little consideration for mining activity, which is the backbone of the County’s economy and directly relevant to us.

The plan neglects to discuss tourism in any meaningful way. This is an important issue in our area, as we are located next to national forest land and the Tippet Rise center, which brings tourism from all over the world.

These issues should at least be addressed in a final draft. A better course would be to scrap the current draft and begin a new process that takes into account the opinions of residents who care about the future direction of Stillwater County.

Bill Hand