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Artesian

The sun rises over the Swan Range and Flathead River just south of Kalispell.

Flathead County has until New Year’s Eve to clarify its stance on a controversial water bottling plant, a judge ruled last week.

This deadline caps a six-month standoff between Flathead County and residents’ groups about the legality of Montana Artesian Water Co.’s bottling plant near Kalispell. It began in June, when Flathead County voted overwhelmingly to expand the Egan Slough Zoning District to cover the plant.

Proponents of the measure predicted the agricultural zoning district’s regulations would keep the plant from operating. The county government opened an investigation into whether this was the case.

After three months without a conclusion, the Egan Slough Community, Yes! For Flathead Farms and Water and resident Amy Waller sued the county commissioners, Planning and Zoning Department, City-County Health Department and Montana Artesian. Their suit demands the court find the plant in violation of the zoning district regulations, and order the county to enforce them against the bottling plant.

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But in an order last week, District Court Judge Robert Allison concluded that, in the absence of the investigation’s findings, “the Court does not have sufficient information upon which to rule at this time,” and directed the county commissioners and Planning and Zoning Department to answer several questions about the status of the investigation by 5 p.m. on Dec. 31.

“Upon receipt of this information, the Court will consider the necessity of ruling” on the lawsuit, Allison wrote.

The attorney for the plaintiffs in this case, Kim Wilson, said the court had not received a reply to the judge’s questions by Friday afternoon. The Flathead County Attorney’s Office did not reply to a request for comment on this story.

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