Big Sky Owners Association Works to Progress Long Standing Pond Project
About the Little Coyote Pond and West Fork Restoration Project
For nearly a decade, Big Sky Owners Association has worked to move forward with plans to complete the Little Coyote Pond and West Fork Restoration Project in Big Sky’s Meadow Village. This project will improve water quality and enhance fisheries of the Little Coyote Pond and the West Fork of the Gallatin River. The restoration will also provide new recreational amenities in a recreational corridor that will benefit not only the BSOA membership but the community and visitors alike. The project will deepen and contour the Little Coyote Pond to maintain optimal conditions for fish growth and over-winter survival. The Pond will be taken off the West Fork stream to prevent siltation and maintain Pond depth. The stream channel will be restored for enhanced fish passage and natural sediment transport downstream. Recreational amenities in the project design include public access trails to and around the Pond which will improve overall connectivity to the existing trail segments in the Meadow Village area. The Pond construction also features a fishing dock with a handicap accessible boardwalk, a beach, picnic tables and public restrooms.
BSOA and BSCWSD Agreement
As many of our members know, BSOA entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (“MOU”) with Big Sky County Water and Sewer District (“BSCWSD”) on September 16, 2015. Pursuant to that MOU, BSOA contributed $15,428 for the costs associated with the filing of BSCWSD’s water rights change application. The MOU provides that upon the completion of the change application and issuance of a change authorization, BSCWSD will convey the Little Coyote Pond water rights to the BSOA. Notwithstanding the issuance of the Change Authorization by the State of Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation on February 13, 2017, BSCWSD continues to delay the conveyance of the water rights.
The MOU further provides that BSOA will pay the agreed upon fair market value for the water conveyed, or some other agreed upon compensation. It further provides a mechanism to determine value if the parties are unable to come to agreement. While an informal agreement on the value of the water rights had been discussed ($15,000), the parties had not formally agreed. In an effort to resolve the impasse, BSOA Vice Chair, Clay Lorinsky, attended the BSCWSD board meeting on December 15, 2022 and a BSCWSD special meeting on December 23, 2022. As a result of those meetings and BSOA’s special board meeting on December 20th, final terms were agreed upon via motions approved and accepted by the respective boards (See Motion for Transfer of Water rights). The motions require a formal written agreement completed by March 31, 2023.
In connection with those approved motions, BSCWSD represented that it is in negotiations to acquire a parcel of land from Northwest Energy (“NWE”) for the purpose of constructing a new storage tank. In support of BSCWSD efforts, BSOA agreed that 1) if the NWE parcel is acquired and the existing access easement is inadequate for BSCWSD’s new storage tank, BSOA would in good faith expand the easement as necessary, and 2) BSOA agreed to permit BSCWSD additional land surrounding that parcel if necessary for construction of the storage tank. BSCWSD submitted a proposed written agreement which BSOA found unacceptable as it omitted agreed upon terms and required BSOA to grant, in addition to the plotted access easement, an additional 40’ easement across BSOA open space in a location to be determined by BSCWSD and deed to BSCWSD two acres surrounding the proposed new storage tank which according to BSCWSD’s water superintendent Jim Muscat is not likely to be built for more than 10 years. Neither of these substantive changes are in the agreed upon motion.
BSOA returned a rewritten agreement on February 14th to which BSCWSD has never responded. By email dated March 20, 2023, BSOA advised of the deficiencies in the proposed agreement, offered to simply pay for the water rights and handle the complicated storage tank issues if/when the NWE parcel is acquired. Notwithstanding the substantive issues raised and its failure to respond to the BSOA draft, BSCWSD twice revised its proposed agreement without addressing the substantive issues and ultimately executed an agreement in substance the same as the initial draft rejected by BSOA. Finally, by letter dated March 31, 2023, BSOA terminated the negotiations, and invited BSCWSD to proceed with the determination of fair market value as set forth in the MOU. BSCWSD did not respond to that letter.
The Big Sky Owner Association’s (BSOA) April 21st Board meeting was attended by three members of the BSCWSD board and its general manager, at which time BSCWSD did not offer to retract either of the contentious issues. To prevent further delays of the Pond Project, BSOA Executive Director, Suzan Scott, delivered a letter with a check to BSCWSD for $15,000 to pay for the conveyance of 7.15-acre feet of fishery water rights for Little Coyote Pond. This payment is in addition to the expenditure of the change authorization and the $33,700 BSOA has agreed to pay to install an irrigation inlet in the Little Coyote Pond for the benefit of BSCWSD.
That letter thanked BSCWSD representatives for their presence and comments at the April 21st meeting. Scott emphasized the BSOA’s support for BSCWSD to build a new, larger water tank. A second meeting was proposed by BSOA to take place on May 15th to further discuss the 2015 MOU that provides guidance for the Little Coyote Pond partnership between BSOA and BSCWSD. On May 9th, BSCWSD returned BSOA’s check for $15,000 for the payment of Little Coyote Pond water rights but requested the May 15 meeting proceed as scheduled. BSOA agreed to the scheduled meeting as it is committed to working with BSCWSD to further the Pond Restoration Project and the potential new water tank to be built for the benefit of the entire Big Sky Community.
Over the past two years, the BSOA has been communicating and collaborating with local officials and community organizations in an effort to implement an emergency egress for Big Sky, as well as an evacuation plan in case of an emergency. During this time some progress has been made, however, due to the importance of emergency preparedness for the Big Sky community, the Board has decided to elevate the issue to the Governor’s Office.