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Everyone who eats owes Gov. Steve Bullock tremendous thanks for vetoing Senate Bill 147, which would have deleted from state law the long-standing requirement that proposed subdivisions be reviewed for impacts to agriculture.

In his veto message, Bullock wrote: “Agriculture is a vital part of Montana’s economy and culture. When evaluating a proposed development, a local community must be able to consider both short and long term agricultural impacts.” Bullock responded to a statewide outcry from Montanans who know agriculture is a vital part of our past, present, and future.

SB147 was an attack on Missoula County, where residents have engaged in a multi-year, public discussion about how to fairly and effectively protect farmland in the face of development. As someone who has participated in that discussion, I was disappointed in the attempt to gut state law and take away local control. Also, proponents of the bill incorrectly claimed that property rights would be at risk if the County tries to mitigate for the impacts of subdivisions on farmland.

As the governor affirmed, clear protections of property rights are in place. Existing state law, the Montana and United States constitutions, and strong court precedent all ensure that local government does not abuse its powers. What is not in place, however, is a predictable policy to conserve farm and ranch land for future generations. That’s why Missoula County has seen nearly 29,000 acres of agricultural land converted to other uses since the mid-1980s.

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Thank you, governor, for sticking up for local control over decisions that affect Montana’s agricultural legacy. The diversion of SB147 is behind us. It’s time to renew meaningful dialogue and find solutions in Missoula County. Fertile soils are one of the least appreciated, yet absolutely vital, resources. Let’s work together to secure our food and agricultural future.

Neva Hassanein, Missoula

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