By Michael Howell
On Tuesday, November 19, the Ravalli County Commissioners approved spending up to $1,500 to retain the legal services of Budd-Falen Law Offices of Cheyenne, Wyoming to provide a template for filing objections to water right applications being made by the U.S. Forest Service on streams in Ravalli County. The funds to pay the law firm were drawn from a special account set up by the Commissioners in October to accept private donations for such legal efforts.
In October, Commissioner Ron Stoltz said that he had received a telephone call from Budd-Falen Law Offices in Wyoming telling him they had received phone calls from some Ravalli County residents who said they were willing to pay for the firm’s services if the County would hire them to help out in the County’s water right objections. Stoltz refused to reveal the identity of the Ravalli County residents at the time. On Tuesday, he said that Hamilton resident Terry Ryan was one of the contributors.
According to officials in the finance department, Ryan has been the only contributor to the fund and contributed $1,500 in October.
Stoltz received a letter from Budd-Falen on November 5, thanking him for “choosing this law office to advise you with regard to assisting you with the issues raised by the Forest Service filing on water rights in Ravalli County,” and outlining the company’s billing rates. The firm charges attorney fees by the hour at various rates and for all other costs incurred on the case.
Budd-Falen specializes in litigation involving private interests against federal agencies and Stoltz believes that the law firm may be able to provide a template for filing water right objections that might pass muster with DNRC. The agency has rejected all the county’s past objections due to lack of standing and lack of facts supporting the claim that the criteria was not being met.