Three irrigation districts will hold votes next month now that their acreage data has been updated, with the status of 19,000 acres finally clarified.
This spring, two seats on the Flathead Irrigation District Board of Commissioners are up for re-election, while the adjacent Mission and Jocko Irrigation Districts plan a referendum on whether to enter joint operations.
The votes were scheduled for May 7, but were delayed after Lake County officials discovered that the districts' land ownership records didn’t match those maintained by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
In the case of the Flathead Irrigation District, the internal records showed a total of 68,000 acres, while the Bureau’s showed nearly 87,000.
District and county leaders concluded that the districts had failed to update and verify their records during a recent period of administrative turmoil. Because irrigation district members receive one vote for every irrigable acre, proceeding with suspect data could have spawned future lawsuits, Lake County attorney Steve Eschenbacher warned members last month.
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And so the districts put the vote on hold while they and their accountants reviewed the data. “We hired a private accounting firm to set those out,” said David Lake, a Flathead Irrigation District commissioner who is up for re-election this year. “We were doing the best we can to get this thing done right.”
“We corralled just about everybody,” said Mission Irrigation District chairman Ray Swenson.
Now, the task has been completed, said Lake County Elections Administrator Katie Harding. She said the Flathead Irrigation District’s updated data showed 86,893 acres, the Mission District’s 14,907 acres and the Jocko District’s 6,830 acres.
She said the ballots for all three districts will be mailed out June 26 and due back by July 16.