Posted: Dec 30, 2012 2:14 PM by Dennis Bragg - MTN News
HELENA- The long-running battle over the seasonal levels of Flathead Lake is headed back to District Court, after the Montana Supreme Court orders another look at what landowners are legally entitled to be a part of the suit.
The legal fight over the lake level behind Kerr Dam has been back and forth through the courts since it was first filed in 1999. Rebecca Matson and a group of property owners who live along the lake, and the Upper Flathead River above the lake, have been fighting against the operators of the dam over how full the lake should be each year.
The property owners maintain Montana Power, and now PPL Montana and Northwestern Energy, fill the lake to 2,893 feet, several feet above its historic level, causing erosion and especially wave damage in the fall. They also argue the lake is actually getting larger and will actually consume several hundred feet of shoreline in the years to come unless the management plan is changed.
The case has already been to the Supreme Court twice on appeal. Now, in a third appeal, the justices have ordered the case back to Flathead District Court again, saying Justice Katherine Curtis erred when she decided who could take part in the class action suit.
In the 4-2 decision, the high court is directing the District Court that the case should involve anyone who has own property on the lake, or along the Flathead River banks south of Lower Valley Road since November 1991. That "class" excludes members of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes and the utilities.
The ruling is expected to increase the number of lake property owners who could potentially be involved in the suit.