These guys are full of beans, and this motion is horse pucky

Hey, this is fun. Since I’m not the lead reporter covering the water case for the Missoulian anymore, I’m going to tell you what I think about this motion.

Reporter Martin Kidston has this story about a group of eastern Montana ranchers opposing the city of Missoula’s eminent domain case against the Carlyle Group and Mountain Water Co.

The group is called United Property Owners of Montana. Its policy director, Chuck Denowh, said this: “We really see this (Mountain Water) case as a concerning precedent that could be set in terms of what’s an appropriate use of eminent domain.”

It’s a goofball argument. Of course, the group offered a bit more than Attorney General Tim Fox did for his rationale opposing Missoula’s proposed gun control ordinance, but that’s another topic.

The picture? Well I searched in our archives for “horse pucky” but I didn’t find anything. Then, I searched for “manure,” and I found that beautiful picture by Perry Backus. It’s chickens pecking apart manure. I’m not implying the state supremes are chickens, but I am saying there’s some smelliness here.

Here’s the state’s legislative handbook on eminent domain, and I’m also going to paste below the Montana statute that discusses public uses, and yes, it includes water pipes, supply systems, canals, reservoirs, and more:

70-30-102. Public uses enumerated. Subject to the provisions of this chapter, the right of eminent domain may be exercised for the following public uses:
(1) all public uses authorized by the government of the United States;
(2) public buildings and grounds for the use of the state and all other public uses authorized by the legislature of the state;
(3) public buildings and grounds for the use of any county, city, town, or school district;
(4) canals, aqueducts, flumes, ditches, or pipes conducting water, heat, or gas for the use of the inhabitants of any county, city, or town;
(5) projects to raise the banks of streams, remove obstructions from streambanks, and widen, deepen, or straighten stream channels;
(6) water and water supply systems as provided in Title 7, chapter 13, part 44;
(7) roads, streets, alleys, controlled-access facilities, and other publicly owned buildings and facilities for the benefit of a county, city, or town or the inhabitants of a county, city, or town;
(8) acquisition of road-building material as provided in 7-14-2123;
(9) stock lanes as provided in 7-14-2621;
(10) parking areas as provided in 7-14-4501 and 7-14-4622;
(11) airport purposes as provided in 7-14-4801, 67-2-301, 67-7-210, and Title 67, chapters 10 and 11;
(12) urban renewal projects as provided in Title 7, chapter 15, parts 42 and 43, except that private property may be acquired for urban renewal through eminent domain only if the property is determined to be a blighted area, as defined in 7-15-4206(2)(a), (2)(h), (2)(k), or (2)(n), and may not be acquired for urban renewal through eminent domain if the purpose of the project is to increase government tax revenue;
(13) housing authority purposes as provided in Title 7, chapter 15, part 44;
(14) county recreational and cultural purposes as provided in 7-16-2105;
(15) city or town athletic fields and civic stadiums as provided in 7-16-4106;
(16) county cemetery purposes pursuant to 7-11-1021, cemetery association purposes as provided in 35-20-104, and state veterans’ cemetery purposes as provided in 10-2-604;
(17) preservation of historical or archaeological sites as provided in 23-1-102 and 87-1-209(2);
(18) public assistance purposes as provided in 53-2-201;
(19) highway purposes as provided in 60-4-103 and 60-4-104;
(20) common carrier pipelines as provided in 69-13-104;
(21) water supply, water transportation, and water treatment systems as provided in 75-6-313;
(22) mitigation of the release or threatened release of a hazardous or deleterious substance as provided in 75-10-720;
(23) the acquisition of nonconforming outdoor advertising as provided in 75-15-123;
(24) screening for or the relocation or removal of junkyards, motor vehicle graveyards, motor vehicle wrecking facilities, garbage dumps, and sanitary landfills as provided in 75-15-223;
(25) water conservation and flood control projects as provided in 76-5-1108;
(26) acquisition of natural areas as provided in 76-12-108;
(27) acquisition of water rights for the natural flow of water as provided in 85-1-204;
(28) property and water rights necessary for waterworks as provided in 85-1-209 and 85-7-1904;
(29) conservancy district purposes as provided in 85-9-410;
(30) wharves, docks, piers, chutes, booms, ferries, bridges, private roads, plank and turnpike roads, and railroads;
(31) canals, ditches, flumes, aqueducts, and pipes for:
(a) supplying mines, mills, and smelters for the reduction of ores;
(b) supplying farming neighborhoods with water and drainage;
(c) reclaiming lands; and
(d) floating logs and lumber on streams that are not navigable;
(32) sites for reservoirs necessary for collecting and storing water. However, reservoir sites must possess a public use demonstrable to the district court as the highest and best use of the land.
(33) roads, tunnels, and dumping places for working mines, mills, or smelters for the reduction of ores;
(34) outlets, natural or otherwise, for the flow, deposit, or conduct of tailings or refuse matter from mines, mills, and smelters for the reduction of ores;
(35) an occupancy in common by the owners or the possessors of different mines of any place for the flow, deposit, or conduct of tailings or refuse matter from their several mines, mills, or smelters for reduction of ores and sites for reservoirs necessary for collecting and storing water for the mines, mills, or smelters. However, the reservoir sites must possess a public use demonstrable to the district court as the highest and best use of the land.
(36) private roads leading from highways to residences or farms;
(37) telephone or electrical energy lines, except that local government entities as defined in 2-7-501, municipal utilities, or competitive electricity suppliers may not use this chapter to acquire existing telephone or electrical energy lines and appurtenant facilities owned by a public utility or cooperative for the purpose of transmitting or distributing electricity or providing telecommunications services;
(38) telegraph lines;
(39) sewerage of any:
(a) county, city, or town or any subdivision of a county, city, or town, whether incorporated or unincorporated;
(b) settlement consisting of not less than 10 families; or
(c) public buildings belonging to the state or to any college or university;
(40) tramway lines;
(41) logging railways;
(42) temporary logging roads and banking grounds for the transportation of logs and timber products to public streams, lakes, mills, railroads, or highways for a time that the court or judge may determine. However, the grounds of state institutions may not be used for this purpose.
(43) underground reservoirs suitable for storage of natural gas;
(44) projects to mine and extract ores, metals, or minerals owned by the condemnor located beneath or upon the surface of property where the title to the surface vests in others. However, the use of the surface of property for strip mining or open-pit mining of coal (i.e., any mining method or process in which the strata or overburden is removed or displaced in order to extract the coal) is not a public use, and eminent domain may not be exercised for this purpose.
(45) projects to restore and reclaim lands that were strip-mined or underground-mined for coal and not reclaimed in accordance with Title 82, chapter 4, part 2, and to abate or control adverse effects of strip or underground mining on those lands.

All for now.

– Keila Szpaller (not a lawyer, but scores fine on reading comprehension)

Sweetgrass Commons, Missoula City Council elections, more

Reporter Martin Kidston had this story over the weekend about Sweetgrass Commons, an affordable housing project Homeword is building at the Old Sawmill District.

Years ago, city officials talked about making sure some of the housing on the site was affordable. No one made it a requirement, though, and I remember at least one former councilman, Bob Jaffe, expressing concern for the lack of it.

Now, 26 units are in the works, and they’ll be offered to people earning 40 percent to 60 percent of the area median income. That’s the design above.

In the weekend’s story, though, Councilman Adam Hertz questions the amount of subsidy going into the project, some $19,000 per unit.

The total cost of the project is $5.9 million, including land, putting the price per unit at an estimated $228,000, per the story.

By comparison, the John Lynn Apartments cost some $118,750 per unit. Tenants pay $250 a month plus utilities in the 8-unit project of the Western Montana Mental Health Center.

I don’t know the difference by square footage. The John Lynn apartments are small, some 500 square feet, and for single individuals.

Homeword’s Heather McMilan argues Sweetgrass Commons must remain affordable for 46 years. She also said units will be offered for as low as $375.

It’s good Councilman Hertz is asking these questions, even though he won’t be on the council for much longer. (See election coverage here.) It makes me wonder if there’s a rule of thumb for these subsidies.

I looked at an old story about the Burns St. Commons, from 2012: “The North Missoula Community Development Corp. calculates the subsidy per unit at $27,070 to $33,220.”

At the time, the subsidy amount was roughly half what other communities were spending per unit, or $50,000, according to NMCDC.

By that measure, the $19,000 a pop for Sweetgrass is a good deal.

The upshot? The Old Sawmill District finally has affordable housing, a longtime goal of a lot of city leaders. The … down shot? Affordable housing still seems to happen in a willy-nilly fashion, and the amount of subsidy a project should get isn’t clear.

– Keila Szpaller