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A group of residents filed a lawsuit in August against the Montana Department of Transportation, alleging a plan to build an Interstate Highway 90 rest stop in Three Forks violated the Montana Constitution.

The lawsuit, filed in district court in Broadwater County, takes aim at MDT’s decision to work with Montana Rest Area JV Partners to build a rest area in Three Forks near U.S. Highway 287 and Wheatland Road. In exchange for the new rest area building, MDT would hand over the 19th Avenue rest area in Bozeman to developer Craig Rickert.

Rickert would also owe the department the difference between the value of the Bozeman property and the cost of the new Three Forks location. Groundwork has already begun on the property.

Rickert declined to comment Thursday, saying he has not seen the suit yet.

The project was met with criticism from Three Forks residents who felt blindsided by the announcement.

The lawsuit was filed by Justin and Laura Brewer, Amy Gibson, Larry Weidinger, Heather Bennett, Corey Williams and Schogia LLC. The plaintiffs all live or own property in Broadwater County off of Wheatland Road, according to the suit.

The suit alleges the department did not give them “a reasonable opportunity to participate” or hold any open meetings on MDT’s decision on the rest area swap.

It also alleges that MDT did not comply with laws related to competitive bidding, notice and sale requirements for the sale of state land when it agreed to sell the Bozeman rest area to the developer, among other claims.

The suit requests that the decision for the land swap be voided and that the contract to sell the Bozeman Rest Area be vacated.

It also requests MDT pay for the plaintiff’s attorneys fees.

MDT has not yet filed a response to the suit. MDT Butte District Administrator William Fogarty declined to comment on the lawsuit Thursday.

Justin Brewer said his goal is to stop the project from happening. Beyond his issue with the process of how it came to be, Brewer said he is concerned about the impact the rest area may have in the area.

Brewer said his home is about a mile and a half from the proposed rest area, but that it would still be visible from his backyard.

According to the suit, Brewer and other neighbors who went to a public meeting held on the matter in July expected they would be able to voice their objection to the project. Instead, they were told the meeting was just informational.

“The first we heard anything about it it was already a done deal,” Brewer said. “It was very frustrating.”

Due to an editing error, this story has been updated to correct that the area where the rest stop is planned along U.S. Highway 287.

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Nora Shelly can be reached at nshelly@dailychronicle.com or 406-582-2607.

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