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Windmill Farms: "Life and Death" of Edgar?

By Eleanor Guerrero
Thursday, July 19, 2018

Photo by Eleanor Guerrero

Dr. Nevins Harding submits a petition by residents and new information about local water and wells at the public hearing on Windmill Farms subdivision.

Over a third of the residents of Edgar showed up on Thursday, July 12, to hear the application of Windmill Farms Subdivision for plat approval. An emotional plea was made by residents against the project would be located southwest of Edgar, at the intersection of Highway 310 and E. Pryor Rd/Elwell Street.

Windmill Farms was originally planned for 20 lots, likely double its population of 100; it was recently changed to 13 lots. It includes drainage fields for up to 5 bedroom homes.

Forrest Mandeville, contracted County Planner, gave the second presentation of the subdivision plat review. The area is 38.60 acres (with roads and park) and lots run about one acre or more with a few less. Each lot would have well and septic services. Afterwards, the Commissioners took public comment.

Dr. Nevins Harding, of Edgar, said, “This is a life and death situation for Edgar, as it was in 85 and was in 83...” For Harding, although he has a PhD in biochemistry the issue is also personal. His family came to Montana in 1886. He lives in the pioneer home of JJ Thornton who founded Edgar in 1903. Many experience water shortages in April and May. He compiled local well histories on water usage and flow. He submitted a report and a petition signed by almost half the residents. More wanted to attend.

Harding said, “This is our third water fight. I’ve been here 40 years. Done a lot of work on sewage. I’m very concerned. Cooney water rights cannot be transferred. For those who put in a turf lawn-they’ll use the well. They won’t have ditch rights, (the ditch) which goes off June 15.”

The petition requested that the commissioners hold any decision in abeyance pending proof that the subdivision owner will have water rights June 15 to mid August.

He said, “We are prepared to take this as far as we have to go because we have proof, undeniable proof we will lose our water and what water we get will be contaminated.”

He respects Mr. Tonn’s (Bruce Tonn, listed as “partner” of Windmill 312, LLC owner of project) desire to use his ground as he wants but “this is a horrendous impact. We have a history of contamination, history of shortage.”

Some folks in Edgar had no water or very little until the ditch. “I don’t think Mr. Tonn knew the history of this fight although I did discuss it with him in May.

Harding said Tonn needs time. Time to get order from water judge to confirm that he has 50 shares; to get a water judge appointed; to get a representative appointed creek administrator and to show how water will get around the subdivision. Harding concluded, “I think that’s reasonable.”

Harding said the use of Cooney water is a “pipe dream.” No method of getting and distributing the water is stated. “Cooney will not distribute less than 50 shares in a block.” This requires a water commissioner. A water source is crucial “to be sure the subdivision is not a dust bowl.”

If approved, Harding recommends a surge pond requirement to hold ditch water.

Craig Dalton, Performance Engineering, appearing on behalf of the owners, did not feel it relevant at this hearing to deal with the water. That would be addressed by the State. Dalton said, regarding shallow wells, “The final plat (and DEQ) would eliminate most concerns.” He didn’t see the need to discuss wells and sanitary systems. “We’re talking about the platting portion.”

Instead, there should be questions like, “How do we impact the fire department, the sheriffs, the roads? The sanitary portion is often handled by DNRC and DEQ to review those very technical documents.”

He is concerned, “it might lead people down different paths where that’s what DEQ is there for, to provide that kind of assurance.”

He said, “We talked with Aquadrilling. It’s a strong aquifer.” He observed, “Some of these wells are very, very old.” Today wells must be at least 25 feet. “That’s also why you would expect their wells are impacted by irrigation in the area. You have to do some maintenance on your own wells sometime.”

Dalton wants the county to administer plowing the subdivision. “The idea was not meant to be a burden. They would set up a bank account for the tax district for those people to pay on their taxes into a fund. If “in ten years we want to do a chip seal on road…$10,000,” when they’re ready to do it, they call the county and say we’re ready.” The County gets bids and charges a 5 percent administration fee. “It’s not to say, ‘Plow our roads.’”

The County Commissioners balked at this proposal. Commissioner Scott Blain said, “I have zero interest in plowing those roads.” It would be “a huge problem and I’m against any involvement with the roads.”

Jamie Walters, an Edgar resident of 30 years said, “This study is going about it sideways. It should have started with the water. Water and sewer.”

Walters is concerned it will impact groundwater and “how we live. We’ll have to put more money in that we’ll never get out. It’s definitely a financial concern, a health concern. Our water table is 2-3 feet. We have crawl spaces with moisture in spring, water under our homes. There is no way anyone could convince me if you put the sewage lower than the water table that it will not have some kind of contamination. We’ll be back to cisterns, hauling water.”

She noted, “Right now, there’s water there. We’re coming off of one of the wettest springs in history.”

Greg Nelson commented, “Aqudrilling just redrilled my well last summer-You cannot drink my water already. Has a lot of rust and iron. They dynamited the bottom. Didn’t help. I have to buy my own drinking water.” His biggest concern was traffic.

Michael Indelicato spent years searching and finally bought a million dollar property because of the abundant wildlife. He believes there may be a wildlife corridor near a 30 acre pond and lots of eagles. The pond was never mentioned in the Environmental Assessment (EA).

Performance Engineering performed the EA. The EA states, “Certain birds are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. The following birds, USFWS Birds of Conservation Concern, have a potential to be affected by activities in these locations: Bald Eagle, Brewer’s Sparrow, Burrowing Owl, Ferruginous Hawk, Golden Eagle, Lark Bunting, Lesser Yellowlegs, Long-billed Curlew, Long-eared Owl, Marbled Godwit, Mountain Plover, Pinyon Jay, Sage Thrasher, and Willet.” But he notes, “According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s IPaC Information for Planning and Consultation, there are no critical habitats within the AOI.”

Does USFW know all critical habitats or corridors? CCN approached Meredith McClure, PhD, University of Montana ecology professor and Lead Scientist on Conservation Science  Partners (including partnering with federal agencies). She is mapping wildlife corridors in this region. She was asked how to define a corridor. She said, "Unfortunately, I don’t have a very straightforward or simple answer to your question. The science is very far from uniform when it comes to determining what is and isn’t a wildlife corridor… we honestly just don’t know that much in many places about which animals are moving where, and whether a particular place has a lot of movement relative to another.” (CCN attempted to contact USFW but received no response by press time.)

The Commissioners passed a motion finding new credible and relevant information and it will be sent to the Planning Board for a subsequent public hearing.


Longtime Edgar resident, Nevins Harding, recalled some of the water development history.

In 1983, Hayes Corporation came in to do a subdivision. Harding said, “At that time it was possible to use our sewer system because it was only 13, 14 years old. But water quantity was the problem. So it was voted down.

Two years later, another corporation Rhea Ann, (Inc.) came in. It proposed an RV Park and possible mobile homes, just north of this subdivision. We had another humongous effort, these guys had attorneys. It was tough.” But, he continued, “We prevailed.” He said their data showed it would pollute the water and affect the volume of water.

He reasoned, “I’m one of the last guys alive in that fight. We approached the State. We knew this fight was coming down again. So we got transponders on the wells. It records temperature, volume and height. They’ve been sitting there waiting for this fight.”

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