by Dr. Ed Berry
The CSKT Water Compact debate includes includes three “threats.”
1. Opponents claim the CSKT “threatens” them.
Compact opponents claim the CSKT’s required legal alternative to file 10,000 water rights claims is a “threat.”
Compact opponents pound their chests and shout, “No one threatens me! I’ll fight the Injuns in court.”
These opponents would stand in front of a speeding locomotive and call the locomotive a “threat.”
The Tribes made deals with the feds before Montana was a state. Like it or not, the Tribes have legitimate water claims in Montana. Now, we must resolve their water claims so we can move on to build a better Montana.
The Tribes, with the support of the federal government, began their water-rights lawsuits in the 1970’s.
In a demonstration of wisdom not shown by today’s Compact opponents, the 1979 Montana legislature created the Compact Commission to negotiate and conclude water-rights settlements.
On this basis, the Tribes and the feds agreed to postpone their water-rights lawsuits and negotiate instead.
Now it’s show time.
The Compact is a masterpiece solution to a very complex problem. It is a business plan for Montana’s future. It will save Montanans money and time. It will improve Montana’s property values. It will open the way for new businesses and new jobs in Montana. Want changes? All parties can agree to amend the Compact in the future.
Sure, the Compact has warts. Show me any business plan that does not have warts. Apple and Google began with warts.
We learned in my previous letter that the Compact does not have to outrun the bear. It needs only to outrun its alternative, which is no compact. And in this contest, the Compact is an easy winner.
2. Opponents “threaten” to start a Litigation Generation.
Compact opponents don’t get it.
They would subject all Montanans under the age of 18 to a generation of needless, expensive water-rights litigation.
Opponents want 10,000 Montanans to have to defend their water rights at an average legal cost of $5000 per month for 36 months, or $180,000. If you’ve got that kind of money to waste, go for it … after you approve the Compact.
Many, if not most, of these 10,000 Montanans would lose their water rights in these lawsuits. Families would lose their farms and ranches. None of this will happen under the Compact.
Ten thousand such lawsuits would cost Montanan’s $1.8 billion.
Surely, there are better ways to spend this money than on unproductive lawsuits. The still bigger cost would be the loss of time and opportunity to grow Montana. You can never recover lost time.
Businesses avoid uncertainty. Compact rejection will create a generation of water uncertainty that will drive new business out of Montana.
Compact opponents, mostly old farts with more time on their hands than common sense in their brains, will be gone before the lawsuits end in 2045. If their opposition were successful (which it won’t be), their legacy would be the Litigation Generation.
Compact opponents “threaten” to do permanent damage to Montana. Such “threats” if successful should deserve a prison sentence.
We learned in my previous letter that opponents do not need to reject the Compact to take their case to court. If Compact opponents had concern for their neighbors they would approve the Compact. Then they can have their day in court without hurting other citizens of Montana.
3. Proponents “threaten” to remove Opponents from office.
Compact opponents have proven themselves to be selfish, irrational, and unethical. Montanans cannot trust them to make important decisions for Montana.
Here’s the real “threat.”
Democrats plus rational Republicans far outnumber the irrational right-wing radicals who oppose the Compact.
Beginning in 2016, Democrats will cross-over to join Republicans to help remove from office all legislators who voted NO on the Compact in 2015.
So, opponent legislators, vote NO to paint a big red target on your back so we will know who to eliminate in the next elections.