In the People's Interest

Damion Lynn: DEQ Permitting—A Government Agency With No Authority to Deny

Gallatin County and Gallatin Gateway residents are rightfully upset at the proposal for a sand and gravel pit located just south of Gateway. You can be upset at the destruction of elk habitat, loss of farmland, impact on surface water, air and light pollution, increased traffic, the mining of gravel for luxury homes in Big Sky, the loss of property value for neighbors, or the infringement upon the right to quiet enjoyment of one’s home. 

The fact is, it does not matter.

Every single resident of the County or state could show up and give the most heartfelt, passionate speech about why this project should not continue, but the legislators in power do not care. The Republican representatives of this state gave certain property owners the right to impede on others in the pursuit of financial benefit. In 2021, HB 599 changed the law to make developing a gravel pit easier, and thanks to Republican Representative Steve Gunderson of Libby, the other 9 Republicans in the House Natural Resources Committee, the 66 Republican representatives on the house floor, 6 Republicans & 2 Democrats of the Senate Natural Resources Committee, 28 Republicans on the Senate floor, and Governor Gianforte this gravel pit will open.

There has been talk about changing zoning in the area, but that is precluded by HB 599 [see MCA 76-2-209(3)], so others have been hopeful that Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) will deny the permit. I hate to crush hopes and dreams, but the DEQ is not in the position to deny permits. I think the best illustration of this a 2012 DEQ publication that includes the below flowchart on obtaining an opencut mining permit. You may quickly notice that there is no box for a full permit denial. 

Flowchart for Montana DEQ opencut mine permitting process. There is no provision to deny permits. Flowchart from 2012 publication Permitting in Montana

Every option allows for revisions of the application until the rules are met or deviations are granted–the project only dies if the owners decide not to provide additional information (on August 9, 2023 the DEQ issued a deficiency letter for the Gateway gravel mine, including additional information requests for overline power, groundwater depth, inconsistent soil depths, an overall incomplete application, existing easement and setback issues, and incorrect legal descriptions).

So how do we fix this? Well, the fastest step would be if someone happens to have a time machine lying around and the 2020 election does not provide a 68- and 31-seat majority in the House and Senate respectively. Barring that, you must call your elected Republican representatives and hope they listen. 

Finally, come 2024 you must change your voting habits, if you vote Republican and are upset by knowing 98% of Republican legislators voted for HB 599. If you vote Democrat or any other party, make sure you vote for every position. You have to vote to make your voice heard. I am sad to see how hard it is for the residents of my County to have their voices heard, and if we do not stand up and tell our representatives no, our state will be sold out from under our feet and the natural landscape we love will be harvested for the financial gain of only a few.