Judge orders DEQ to reconsider Big Sky expansion and wastewater permits near the Gallatin River
The Gallatin River (Photo by Diane Renkin of the National Park Service, public domain via Flickr).
A Gallatin County judge has ordered the Montana Department of Environmental Quality to go back and review a wastewater permit in one of the toniest areas of the state, which environmental advocates say could potentially pollute one of the state’s most famous – and imperiled – rivers.
Gallatin County District Court Judge Peter Ohman determined that a wastewater permit issued to the Lazy J South subdivision in Big Sky was incorrectly issued by the DEQ because it failed to take into consider the cumulative impact more homes and businesses in the subdivision would have on the nearby Gallatin River.
The Gallatin River is one of Montana’s most prized waterways, noted for its fishing, but dramatically increased development in and around Bozeman has recently made it one of the most imperiled rivers with annual algae blooms threatening aquatic life and the clean water in it.
Lazy J South is a residential and commercial development located less than a half a mile from the mainstream portion of the Gallatin River in Big Sky Canyon. Ohman ruled in favor of the Upper Missouri Waterkeeper and the Montana Environmental Information Center, which brought the suit, and ordered the department, which is responsible for clean water and enforcing wastewater standards, to perform a new assessment that examines the cumulative impacts of the wastewater discharge.
Ohman pointed out that even though construction continues in the subdivision, the original permit for wastewater has not changed since the permit was issued in 2006.
During this summer, the Montana DEQ issued a preliminary determination that the mainstream of the Gallatin River was “impaired” for algal blooms.
“We are encouraged by the court’s ruling today, which vindicates the public’s right to a thorough assessment of pollution impacts to our local waterways before decision-making,” said Guy Alsentzer, executive director of the Upper Missouri Waterkeeper. “The Lazy J South pollution permit is just a single case representative of a larger issue in Montana, where agencies continue to rubber stamp new development approvals without looking at the combined impacts on our finite and valuable water resources.”
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