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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Water Compact - Who Gets What?

February 8, 2015—-by Fred Kelly Grant, Chairman of Board and CEO Stand and Fight Club Inc.

Many historically significant battlefields are visited annually in Montana.  Today, another historic battle is being fought over water, and the battle field is the Montana statehouse.   A water compact between the United States, the state of Montana and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes will award even off reservation water rights to the Tribes.  Some opponents of the Compact say that the Tribes will be given the right to direct distribution of water even off reservation.  A reading of the convoluted 1600 page compact seems to support their belief.
It would be a big mistake for owners of private water rights outside the state of Montana to overlook the importance of this hotly contested water issue.  If successful in their efforts, legislative supporters of the compact will create a pattern that will endanger private rights wherever private, Tribal and federal water interests collide.
Private property owners throughout the state have voiced strong objections to the compact sponsored by a senator who formerly opposed the compact concept.  In an email exchange with a constituent, the sponsor explains that after “several hundred hours” of study, he sees the wisdom in negotiating the off-reservation Tribal rights.  But so far, I haven’t been able to detect significant changes in the compact that would protect private water rights, and there is no explanation by supporters of where those changes are located in the document.
One worry I would have as a Montanan would be the extensive immunity from liability the producers of the compact and the bill to implement it give themselves.  I don’t believe in 50 years in the business, I have ever seen such an all-out, all inclusive effort by drafters and supporters to give themselves immunity.  I would always worry if a proponent of a legislative or administrative act says:  “What we are doing is straight legal and constitutional, but if that isn’t clear, we want it absolutely clear that we are not responsible for the unconstitutionality and we want it even clearer that we are immune from liability for creating an unconstitutional taking.”
Unsatisfied with the sponsor’s answer to him, the constituent from Troy Montana made this statement:
Our corporate attorney for several decades has passed
away, but I still remember one of his favorite statements that fits many
situations – He said every negotiation, no matter what it was in regards
to, ended by answering the question of
Who Gets What? Since well over 2
million dollars has been spent for advertising to attempt to convince the
people to accept this compact, who is paying that and what do they get?
Many people of influence have changed their mind after meeting with the
tribes or the feds or both, all of which begs the question –
Who Gets What?
One thing that is clear here is that we do know that  high-power DC lobbying, public relations company, Mercury, is getting $1 million dollars to run the campaign to persuade the legislators to vote “yes” and to persuade the Montana citizenry that everything is kosher about a “yes” vote. And, we know that the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes entered into the contract to pay the million to Mercury.  In addition, they have set aside another $1.8 million dollars for other unspecified public events (to be run by Mercury, one wonders?) . . . . . . . . . . . . 
“Wake up, Montana, before special interests; Uncle Sam and/or the Salish Kootenai buy enough advertising to convince your legislator to capitulate to their demands.  Make no mistake—they want it all. and too many people we have sent to Helena seem willing to help them get it.   The U.S. Justice Department has never backed off from representing tribal interests on the reservations—now the Compact opens the door to a whole new playing field.  It makes perfect sense for the federal government to ante up 1.2 billion dollars if it can buy them the ability to see that control of water in the entire Clark Fork Basin is placed within their grasp as custodians of tribal interests. Water is today’s gold!”

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