2019-09-11 Adkins pit

The Montana Department of Environmental Quality has closed the application from Mike Adkins for a tire monofill facility on his property near Pray after he told the agency he wouldn’t pay a $50,000 deposit for an environmental review.

Plans for a tire dump in the Paradise Valley have been shelved, but the person behind the idea said it won’t be shelved for good.

The Montana Department of Environmental Quality has closed the application from Mike Adkins for a tire monofill facility on his property near Pray after Adkins told the agency he wouldn’t pay a $50,000 deposit for an environmental review of the project.

Rebecca Harbage, DEQ public policy director, said the agency considers the application to be withdrawn, meaning any future development would require a new application.

Opponents of the project cheered the withdrawal as it alleviated their worries that such a pit could lead to a tire fire or chemicals polluting groundwater. But Adkins said Wednesday that it’s not over, and that he’s “changing gears.” He’s got a different plan now: donate the land to the Little Shell Tribe.

He’s a member of the tribe, and he believes such a donation could get a tire pit up and running sooner, and that it would eventually make the property sovereign land.

Tribal lands would still have federal oversight on projects like this, but it’s unclear whether the property would ever become sovereign land. The Little Shell Tribe is still seeking federal recognition and doesn’t have a reservation. And, even if they receive that recognition, the chairman, Gerald Gray, said Wednesday the property would not be part of the reservation.

The tribe could take control of it through Little Shell Tribal Enterprises LLC, a company the tribe used to take over a different Adkins property near Gardiner this year.

Gray said a tire pit seemed like a potential profit-maker, and they’re interested in ideas that would make the tribe self-sufficient. He said they have to examine the economic viability — and the permitting processes and environmental regulations the operation would have to follow.

“It needs to be looked at more thoroughly,” Gray said.

This shift is the latest twist in Adkins’ long quest to make use of an old gravel pit on his property north of Pray. His plans called for filling the pit with tires, burying them and eventually recycling them. He believes the recycled material could be used for paving roads and trails, but has never detailed the process that would be used to recycle them.

DEQ initially approved the plan for filling the pit with tires in 2012, but it was stalled by a lawsuit from Protecting Paradise, a group of Park County residents worried about the environmental risks of the project. A judge ruled in their favor in 2013 and directed DEQ to conduct a deeper environmental analysis of the plans.

DEQ began that work this summer. Many of the same opponents resurfaced and raised many of the same concerns during a public comment period. Adkins dismissed their arguments and said their push is all about preventing industrial development in a valley that relies heavily on tourism.

“They don’t want anything more than (tourism),” Adkins said. “They don’t want anything disturbing their slumber. When something comes up they fight.”

In August, DEQ asked Adkins to sign an agreement and pay $50,000 to start the environmental impact statement. He declined. DEQ gave him a few weeks to change his mind, with a deadline of Tuesday. He didn’t change his mind, and DEQ formally closed the application.

The Park County Environmental Council issued a news release celebrating the death of the proposal.

“I’m really glad this dump is not going to proceed and doesn’t waste a bunch of everybody’s time fighting it again,” said Wendy Riley, a Park County Environmental Council board member.

The Livingston Enterprise first reported Adkins’ plan to transfer the land to the Little Shell. The tribe has 5,325 members and is based in Great Falls.

The transfer of the pit property would be the second deal between Adkins and the tribe. State property records show that Little Shell Tribal Enterprises now controls a quarry near Gardiner that was previously owned by Adkins. Gray said they’ll use the quarry to produce travertine to sell across the country.

As for the tire pit, Gray said they plan to look closely at whether the project would make sense. If it won’t make money, they won’t do it, and he said they plan to follow all the applicable permitting processes and environmental regulations.

“But on the other hand if it was to take place, I’m not going to be pushed around by a bunch of rich people in Paradise Valley,” Gray said.

Michael Wright can be reached at mwright@dailychronicle.com or at 406-582-2638. Follow him on Twitter @mj_wright1.

Michael Wright covers the environment and wildlife issues for the Chronicle.

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