Discovering Montana

Governor's Address to the Special Session

Helena, June 15, 1999
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Welcome back to college.

And welcome to Session 56 point 5 of the Montana Legislature.

This is an historic session for a number of reasons.

This is the 26th special session in our special stateís special history.

This is-- as far as we can gather--the first session in nearly a century held outside of the State Capitol Building, which, as you know is being renovated---not from anything that happened during the regular session, but because it is being prepared for yet another century of service to the people of this state.

I am going to be extremely brief this morning. We have some important work to do and we canít get to it, if I am talking at you and you are stuck listening.

And, finally, I say historic because of the subjects at hand.

The Crow-Montana Water Compact is truly an historic opportunity for the Crow Tribe and the State of Montana, further proof of how the peoples in Montana can accomplish so much more by working together.

Last fall officials from the Crow Tribe approached me and Attorney General Mazurek with a proposal for a comprehensive settlement of three important issues that have gone unresolved for decades: tribal water rights, coal severance tax litigation and Section 2 land ownership.

The Tribe hoped that a settlement package involving the first two issues could be brought to the 1999 regular session of the Legislature for approval.

Time and the need for public hearings did not permit that. But since December the Montana Reserved Water Rights Compact Commission and the Crow Tribe, working closely with federal negotiators, have engaged in intense negotations on the water rights issues.

In April, the Tribe and Compact Commission finalized a compact which provides for a significant water right for the Tribe while protecting the rights of all existing water users.

At the same time, the Attorney General and I negotiated with the Tribe a final settlement of the contentious coal tax litigation, which has dragged on for so many years and so many dollars.

It is these two agreements that we bring to this special session gathered here today and tomorrow. This is the first step in an approval process that includes Congressional authorization, a Crow Tribe secret ballot referendum and ultimately approval by the Montana Water Court.

The Section 2 issue will be negotiated by the Tribe and United States and included in a Congressional settlement package.

Your hearings will learn of the specific details of these agreements later. Let me just say for now in brief that the Compact provides water from surface flow, groundwater and storage for the Crow Tribe for existing and future needs, provides protection for all state and tribal current water users while protecting conservation districtsí rights to future water.

It creates an administrative process for resolution of future disputes between Tribal and non-Tribal water users, closes certain basins to new water apppropriations and authorizes the State to pay the Tribe $15 million for the Tribeís dismissal of the coal severance lawsuit and for the Stateís cost-share for the water rights settlement.

While the State has, indeed, prevailed in recent court decisions on this issue, the Attorney General and I are in agreement that some potential liability does remain on the subject. And in the interests of economy, expeditious resolution of a longstanding dispute and our mutual interests in building positive future relationships, we agree that this settlement is the best for the people of Montana.

Well, thatís it---two complex issues have been narrowed through good-faith negotiations to a pair of fairly simple decisions before you this week.

I hope--I trust--you will see fit to do the right thing for the mutual futures of Montanaís peoples and approve these pacts.

By doing that, by approving these agreements in this historic special session, together, we can turn two perpetual points of division and debate over water resources into what they should quickly become: water under the bridge between our peoples.

Thank you. Good luck. God bless. And good day.

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