State House Candidate Responses: Should The Legislature Help Resolve the Madison Well Dispute? How?
As part of our goal here at County 17 of informing voters for this year’s elections, in the lead-up to the primaries, we sent out unique questions for candidates in state, county, and city elections, to let you better know your candidates.
To avoid overwhelming people with information, we skipped races that were uncontested. After the primaries, challengers to the incumbent stepped forward in House districts 31 and 32. This week we’ll be posting responses from the Republican incumbents and their independent challengers.
We also reached out to the candidates in District 40, but we did not receive responses from either candidate.
Previous answers can be found here:
The general election is Nov. 6.
The Madison Water Supply Project is a vital piece of infrastructure and one of the most complex projects Campbell County and the city of Gillette have undertaken in the past 20 years. Crook County residents have complained about reclamation and impacts to wells. These residents are requesting access the system for their residential and agricultural water needs. The city argues it hasn’t been proven to be responsible for the well problems, and permitting agricultural use falls outside the designations for the state appropriations, which could result in the state demanding the city repay over $100 million it appropriated for the project. So far, the city and these residents have not been able to find a solution. It’s possible the state will have to step in. If so, what steps, if any, should the legislature take to resolve the dispute? (limit 500 words)
Scott Clem (Republican-District 31)
Recent developments indicate that a solution has been reached. How did we get here?
About a year ago, prior to the budget session, city officials met with our legislative delegation to update us on the problem. They let us know that some landowners (about 10) in Crook County, near the new Madison wells, had some abnormalities in their private wells. This included one well drying up. At the time of our briefing there was no baseline ph levels from which to compare, it wasn’t clear how old the wells were and if they neared their useful life, the wells in question and the Madison wells were at drastically different depths, and the investigation by the DEQ was not complete as to whether the newly drilled Madison wells were the cause. The city wanted to wait until the DEQ completed its study before making any formal actions. In the meantime the city did assist providing potable water in storage tanks for affected landowners, though I’m not certain as to when that began.
Fast forward to the budget session this last year and an amendment was made to the water bill requiring that the city allow up to 200 taps off the Madison pipeline at a discounted rate than what Gillette residents pay, with up to 1,000,000 gallons per year. My district is all in Campbell County, covering the northern, eastern and southern parts of Gillette. The Madison pipeline is a regional water project for Campbell County, and it was only Campbell County that ponied up and taxed itself to pay for its portion of the project. I was the only Campbell County legislator speak up and vote no on the amendment. I thought it was unwise for the legislature to insert itself into a local problem when all of the facts weren’t in yet. I also felt and expressed on the house floor that it was wrong to allow another county’s residents to benefit from a project that was meant and paid for by Campbell County.
As mentioned, a solution was recently proposed by the select water committee. The state has clarified that Gillette will not have to forfeit any money for Crook County residents who use money for agriculture use. Moreover, DEQ has concluded that the acid fracking on the Madison wells was not the cause of the landowner’s failed wells. As the facts come in, more action is needed. Regardless of why these well failed, this is an opportunity for the City of Gillette to show itself friendly to its neighbors. However, any permanent solution that allows Crook County residents to tap into the Madison project must be equitable to the Campbell County taxpayers. More wells at the Madison will need to be drilled. If Crook County wants to tax its residents to pay for a water project for them, I will support the complementary 2/3rds state money to pay for their project.
David Hardesty (Independent-District 31)
This seems like an initial communication problem and one that involves all parties being more reactive than proactive. Engagement by all people in the planning phase of these large projects needs to happen. Citizens of Gillette want Crook County residents to pay their fair share if they are tapping the water lines, and Crook County residents feel their wells have been damaged and that drainage will erode and contaminate their property. Right now both sides of this equation see a Lose-Win situation, I lose while the other side wins. Changing that to a Win-Win is needed. Compromise is critical.
To prevent incidents like this in the future the state does need to fund research so well samples can be collected on a consistent basis. It is tough to judge water quality over time with insufficient data on private wells. Private land owners also need to allow for this testing.
Tim Hallinan (Republican-District 32)
Campbell County put $100 million into this project and the amendment put in by Senator Driskill violates our rights to the full product of our investment. If Crook County wants to tap into our water it should do so by negotiation with us.
If they simply want water and they refuse to negotiate with us for it , and the state wants to give it to them, they should form their own water district and bond themselves to pay for it.
Chad Trebby (Independent-District 32)
I am not confident it is the place of the legislature to become involved in this issue at this time. At this point, there has been no proof that this project has been the causative factor in the issues that are facing the residents of Cook County. Therefore, until such a time that something related to the project can be proven as a causal factor, I don’t believe that those residents should be entitled to use of system simply because they are having issues with their systems. In the event that they are able to provide such proof, then an agreement would have to be reached between the parties. In either instance, the remedy would be best sorted out through the court systems and not the legislative process.
Removing the legal arguments from the equation, should the residents of these areas want to come on the system for their residential needs I wouldn’t be opposed. My lack of opposition is contingent upon a couple of factors. The first being, they would need to pay a share of the costs of the project to help offset the expense incurred by the taxpayer of Campbell County. This was a regional project and there are provisions for allowing new districts access to the system. Therefore, it should be done in accordance with those guidelines. Secondly, I would stand by the provision that the use be for residential needs and not agricultural. The system was designed to serve the region for about 30 years or for a residential population in excess of 57,000 people. Opening up the use to agricultural applications would not only violate the terms of the appropriation but it would also significantly impact the projected useful life and intended needs of the project.