Local businesses call on governor

Bigfork Eagle
September 6, 2006

Over 100 Flathead Valley businesses voiced support for conserving the valley's headwater streams last month in a signed letter to Gov. Brian Schweitzer.
Flathead area business owners urged Gov. Schweitzer to take a strong stance on maintaining clean water in the streams and rivers that flow from the back country and through the Flathead Basin and ultimately end up in Flathead Lake.

Business owners from Kalispell to Polson with stores ranging from fly-fishing shops, outdoor gear retailers, restaurants and mercantiles signed on to the letter to promote their belief that the Flathead Basin's clean headwater streams provide healthy living for families, outstanding recreation and a great environment for good business.

"You see a lot of out-of-state plates come summer time because our lakes and rivers don't look like something from the east coast," said Terry Leonard of the Flathead Lake Brewing Company in Woods Bay. "Folks come here to have fun boating, swimming, dining and shopping, and many businesses around here depend on an appealing outdoor setting to make a living. We live and play on Flathead Lake and its tributaries and want to keep these waterways clean for our community, families, and future generations. Besides, our beverages rely on a quality water base before they become a finished product - clean water is essential for my business."

"I can't think of anything more important for business around here than clean water," says Tom Krustangel of Montana Tom's Chocolate Factory. "Heck, it's bigger than business -- it's about an overall quality of life. People are moving, traveling, and living here because we have natural amenities that just aren't found many other places -- we need to keep it that way by ensuring that our water stays clean."

Patrick Jones of Bigfork's Bay Books and Prints said he signed on to the letter simply because he wants to do what he can to promote the protection of clean water in the valley. "I think that's worth standing up for," he said. Nan Strawn of Nan's Cafe shared those sentiments with her fellow Bigfork businessperson, saying it just makes sense to protect streams from pollution in order to ensure they serve future generations well.

Gov. Schweitzer did not make a formal response to the letter as of press time. He is developing recommendations to determine the future management of national forest back country areas in Montana, specifically areas currently managed as roadless. Those areas are the source for much of the Flathead Basin's clean water. Schweitzer is speaking with Canadian officials about the potential for the development of open pit coal mining on the headwaters of the North Fork of the Flathead River outside of Glacier National Park.

Leonard said the potential of coal mining activities north of Flathead Lake provides an opportunity for the valley to show its commitment to clean water at home.

"This is bigger than just our headwater streams here in the Flathead," Leonard said. "This is about having credibility with our neighbors. For example, Flathead Lake Brewing Company has worked really hard to practice what we preach by ensuring that our wastewater and brewery effluent are treated correctly and have the smallest impact on our local environment. If Montanans are really concerned about the impacts of open pit coal mining on the North Fork of the Flathead, we need to first protect our headwater streams and then we can start talking with Canada from a place of authority."