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Missoula judge dismisses lawsuit; Seeley Lake sewer project to break ground in spring

Donald Larson of Seeley Lake sits in a Missoula District Court courtroom in August, where he attempted to stop a community wastewater project from moving forward. The court dismissed his case this week and the project is set to break ground in the spring. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

A District Court judge has denied a Seeley Lake resident’s motion to stop the community’s sewer district from building a centralized wastewater system, saying he failed to prove his case on a number of fronts.

Donald Larson, a 40-year resident of Seeley Lake, appeared in Missoula District Court in August, where he asked Judge Karen Townsend to delay the project until the sewer district answered more questions.

Missoula County was named as a witness in the case, and officials said delaying the project would risk more than $9 million in grants secured for the system. Larson sought to stop the district from accepting those grants, though his argument failed in court.

“Although Mr. Larson is clearly knowledgeable about his community and cares deeply about it, he did not offer technical credentials to support his conclusions,” Townsend wrote in her decision. “Mr. Larson did not establish he has specialized knowledge, training or experience as a professional engineer, hydrologist, registered sanitation or water quality specialist.”

Larson had claimed the Seeley Lake Sewer District abused its discretion when it moved to take on debt for the planned treatment facility. He also said the district violated campaign practices, didn’t follow protocol during the protest period, and failed to allow reasonable public testimony.

Attorneys for the county and the district disputed Larson’s claims and Townsend dismissed his lawsuit. Larson couldn’t be immediately reached Friday for comment.

The project’s first phase, which includes building a treatment plant, is estimated at $15 million. Properties in the first sewer district would connect to the system, followed by other districts in subsequent years.

“The board has voted to continue on with the project,” Greg Robertson, the county’s director of public works, said Friday. “We’re full steam ahead.”

Robertson expects work to begin next spring once the ground firms up. The project will take two seasons to complete, including the collection system serving the downtown district and the treatment facility.

“The plan is to have it in two separate contracts so they’re going at the same time,” Robertson said. “What’s been proposed is a long time coming. Not everyone, but most of the people I’ve talked to are supportive of the project and want to see it happen. I’m glad to see it moving forward.”