Bitterrooters are an opinionated lot and they don’t mind objecting—publicly and loudly—when they are displeased. Last week, at three public hearings, Bitterrooters voiced displeasure with proposed changes in their living environment.
On Wednesday evening, about 60 people attended a preliminary hearing on the proposed 327-unit Brooks Creek Acres subdivision to be located northwest of Stevensville on U.S. Highway 93. Every person who spoke qualified his/her statements with, “I’m not opposed to subdivisions or growth, but …” Concerns ranged from population density and overcrowded schools to the impacts of noise and light on the Lee Metcalf Wildlife Refuge directly across the Bitterroot River to the east. Referring to the controversial motorsports racetrack proposed in the same neighborhood as the subdivision last year, Stevensville School Board member George Sullivan drew the only laughter of the night when he commented, “I think we’d be better off with the racetrack.” Another public hearing will be held in mid-February.
On Thursday and Friday, meanwhile, about 600 Florence-area residents went on record in opposition to a proposed Lucky Lil’s Casino now under construction at the Florence Town Pump gas and convenience store. Most were concerned that the casino and its aggressive advertising would attract high school students who now go to the gas station at lunch time, and that the highway traffic from the casino would create a safety hazard. An informal study by town residents claimed that three existing bars are usually only at one-third capacity and remain at less than 50 percent capacity on weekends. With the reopening of an existing fourth bar expected soon, the town will have over 900 seats for alcohol-seeking patrons, without the addition of the casino. The casino’s gambling license is not subject to challenge but its application for a beer and wine license can be denied if protestors can show it would adversely impact the community’s safety, morals and health. A second public hearing will be held in the near future before a decision is reached by the Montana Department of Revenue.
Finally, proposals for “wetlands enhancement” by three extremely wealthy landowners who wish to divert water from the Bitterroot River would have negative impacts on irrigation and fish populations in the main river, according to testimony before the Ravalli County Board of Conservation Supervisors. Three property owners, Charles Schwab, Ken Seibold and Lew Coleman, have proposed diversions to enhance private ponds and wetlands on their own property in the Victor and Stevensville areas. More than 70 people protested the proposals. No decisions have yet been made.