What is Smart Growth? To grow smart is to use land in a way that strengthens rather than weakens our economy, environment, and communities. Smart growth is conservative. By building compactly and protecting farmland and open space, we decrease the need for taxpayer-funded infrastructure while we simultaneously protect water and air, make housing affordable, reduce traffic, revive and create beloved traditional neighborhoods, and sustain community bonds.
Montana Smart Growth Coalition's goal is to create more sustainable and smarter cities and towns while protecting the open lands and pristine waters that surround them. We believe that we can create models of more sustainable cities and towns even in a relatively rural state like Montana. After all, nearly 80% of Montanans live in or within the travel-shed of one of our cities and towns higher than the national average. And nearly all the growth that we have seen in Montana over the last 30 years has taken place within or in driving proximity to fastest growing cities and towns such as Missoula, Helena, Bozeman, and Kalispell, which are regional service centers to the surrounding towns.
Our strategies for smart growth in Montana include: (1) collaborating with cities and counties to implement the smart growth planning and zoning process that MSGC passed; (2) working with the Governor's office and state agencies to eliminate wasteful government incentives that promote sprawling development patterns and redirect these state regulations, rules, and investments to promote sustainable and smart growth; (3) strategizing with state agencies to adopt development standards that will ensure that new growth is guided away from our rivers, streams, open lands, and wildlife habitat; and, (4) educating fellow Montanans about the economic, environmental, and property protection benefits of smart growth and how anti-smart growth policies undermine our quality of life, public health and safety, environmental protections, and property values.
Land & Wildlife: Montana's big sky is well-known around the world for its access to beautiful lands, abundance of fish and wildlife, and heritage of working farms and ranches. In Montana, we also know it as our $1 billion industry. We see all of this while driving along the Interstate, but what is harder to see is how the elk, mule deer, pronghorn antelope, and bears wander over vast distances, searching for food, mates, and shelter. In Montana, wildlife have successfully migrated hundreds of miles over a jumble of public and private lands throughout the 20th century. However, these critical migration routes are vulnerable. Our wildlife's long-term survival depends upon their ability to move from summer to winter ranges and in the case of some critters, expand into new territory to avoid competition or find available mates.
These critical migration routes, many of which encompass rural private lands, are threatened by development -- rural residential sprawl, oil and gas drilling, roads and highways, and other barriers to safe passage. In fact, the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks recent report, the Montana Fish and Wildlife Conservation Strategy, has identified rural sprawl as one of, if not the most serious, threat to the long-term well being of the Big Sky State's rich natural heritage.
Montanans value the state's wildness its open spaces, access to public lands, and abundant fish and wildlife. For many, it's why we stay here, why we moved here recently or why we settled here several generations back. We also value working farms and ranches and our deep agricultural heritage. All of these natural and cultural values must be respected to protect our sense of place, our quality of life, and our economic vitality into the future. The Montana Smart Growth Coalition promotes quality, long-term development that works in harmony with our wildlife and open lands. This approach promises to help Montana grow and prosper while honoring our natural and cultural heritage.
Water: Over the last ten years, the Montana Smart Growth Coalition has studied the forces behind our state's inefficient growth and sprawl to help understand why most growth over the last 25 years has taken place outside our existing cities and towns in the western half of the state. From these studies, we learned that how and where growth takes place in Montana is largely determined by ease and cost of acquiring or accessing water, waste water and other infrastructure as well as proximity to airports, forests and rivers
As a result, at MSGC we focus our efforts on safeguarding an important resource to our state -- WATER. The loophole in Montana's "exempt well" regulation is a perfect example of misguided policy that has inadvertently led to massive sprawl taxing our already overburdened fresh water resources. For years, small individual wells have been exempt from any regulatory oversight. But in the last 20 years, the exemption has been abused. Developers use the permit-exempt well loophole to supply water for new subdivisions, in some cases drilling dozens or hundreds of exempt wells to supply water for each home rather than applying for a new large water use permit through the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC). Landowners, farmers and ranchers are rightly concerned that the cumulative effect of these unregulated wells depletes water in the streams, and threatens the security of their senior water rights. The loophole has the additional impact of promoting inefficient land use patterns that require maintenance and upkeep of roads and services that burden a county's financial budget.
Most developments in Montana have taken place on exempt wells on the outskirts of our cities and towns over the last 25-30 years because the exempt well loophole has made it the easiest, fastest, and most profitable way to subdivide land regardless of the cost of expense to senior water rights holders and to counties. During the 2008 Water Policy Interim Committee study, the DNRC records showed 38,372 exempt well certificates since 1991. Furthermore, DNRC estimated that by 2020, there could be between 32,000 and 78,000 additional exempt wells. In the past 10 years, 3 out of 4 homes was built using the exempt well loophole
MSGC is working diligently to close this loophole. In November 2010, WELC filed a lawsuit on behalf of ranchers and the Clark Fork Coalition. WELC attorney Matt Bishop worked out an agreement with DNRC to close the loophole through rulemaking procedures after the legislative session. Over the 2011 legislative session, there were significant efforts by opponents to stop the rulemaking from happening. MSGC and WELC will continue to press for changes in how we permit exempt wells in order to stop this perverse incentive that promotes unsustainable growth on the outskirts of towns and cities.
Transportation: Transportation planning lays the groundwork for land use planning. MSGC understands that it is important for communities to be involved in transportation decisions as part of developing livable cities. MSGC is working to redirect state and federal transportation funding to support multimodal transportation networks in and around existing cities and towns. At our urging, the Montana Department of Transportation recently completed a study titled "Smart Transportation". Our next steps are to secure implementation of the recommendations developed.
Roadways designed for all modes of transportation make neighborhoods safer and more appealing. And investments in road maintenance - rather than new construction -reduce expenses, concentrate development and benefit the environment. People want more transportation choices not fewer, whether it's to save money on gas, live a healthier lifestyle by walking or biking, or to have a more relaxing commute without the hassle of traffic and downtown parking. Communities can provide these choices by making it more convenient for residents and visitors to carpool, walk, bike, or take public transit. Every community in Montana can use smart transportation techniques that allow people the freedom to choose how they get around.
MSGC also recognizes the need to plan for wildlife in our transportation system. Unfortunately, many of Montana's highways have been constructed through the wildlife migratory routes that link winter and summer feeding ranges. The growth of developed areas and increased travel throughout Montana have resulted in more frequent roadway collisions with deer and other large wild animals.
The cost of such animal-vehicle collisions are high. Across the nation, traffic crashes involving wildlife kill hundreds of people, injure thousands more and cause an estimated $5 to $8 billion in damage each year. When we consider these costs, it is logical for MSGC to advocate for smarter highway planning and demand that we mitigate potential collisions through wildlife overpasses and underpasses. MSGC has a holistic approach to transportation planning that supports citizens' voices in the process, ensures choices for everyone and highlights public safety throughout planning and development.