Sen. Rowlie Hutton, R-Havre, said a bill he is sponsoring would benefit Montana by allowing it to take back land, helping development and economy.
He said his bill is not related to the bill that passed the House Wednesday, which would allow utility companies to use eminent domain to take land for building power lines.
“I have an eminent domain bill but it’s not anywhere remotely tied to the one that’s controversial in that arena,” he said in response to a question by Havre resident Karen Sloan. “It will be controversial, but not in that arena.”
Hutton said his bill, like one passed in Utah last year and one proposed in Idaho, would allow the state to use eminent domain to take back land taken from the state by the federal government.
“So when a monument is made or a large (piece) of land is put aside as a monument and taken up as federal land, this eminent domain bill will let us take that land back,” he said.
Monuments in Montana
The monument topic is a hot button for many Montanans. When President Bill Clinton declared federal land a national monument in the Upper Missouri River Breaks in 2001, many spoke in opposition to the action as a federal land grab.
When a U.S. Department of the Interior memo, listing land in Phillips and Valley counties as a potential prairie national monument, was leaked last year, a huge outcry arose again. That culminated in U.S. Bureau of Land Management Director Bob Abbey holding a town hall meeting in Malta last September.
Abbey’s statement that the memo was simply a discussion item and no plans to create a monument were in place was met with skepticism by many at the meeting.
Under the Antiquities Act of 1906, the president is authorized to declare land owned by the federal government containing “historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest” national monuments.
It also allows the president to reserve sections of land owned by state governments or private citizens to become part of the monument if its owner wishes to transfer ownership to the U.S. government.
Hutton said his bill has support in some quarters, and strong opposition in others.
“I think this is one that everybody can get behind, because it’s going to help our state out financially,” he said. “It’s going to help identify the sovereignty of the state. I’m excited about it.”
Power company eminent domain bill passes House
The other bill, which defines public utility companies as being able to use eminent domain to acquire land to provide service to its customers, passed the House 69-30 Wednesday.
Rep. Tony Belcourt, D-Box Elder, and Rep. Wendy Warburton, R-Havre voted in favor of the bill.
Rep. Kris Hansen, R-Havre, voted against it.
The bill arose from a decision by a state District judge regarding land a Canadian company was trying to acquire to build a power transmission tie line from Alberta through Montana. He ruled it could not use eminent domain to acquire land on which cultural items, like teepee rings, are located.
That decision is being appealed to the Montana Supreme Court.
Sen. Jonathan Windy Boy, D-Box Elder, said he will oppose the bill in the Senate, as he did when testified about it in the House.
“There’s some consequences here, unforeseen circumstances,” he said.
Windy Boy said the bill should be of concern to anyone who owns property, as well as to people concerned about cultural locations.
Many Indian tribes have locations of cultural significance that predate and are outside of the reservations, he added.
Some of the intent of the bill already is superseded by federal law, including many regulations of protecting cultural areas, Windy Boy said.