Judge Approves Liquor License for Planned Rest Area for Love in Ramsay | Local


A judge said Love’s could get a liquor license for its planned truck stop and casino next to the small community of Ramsay off Interstate 90, giving the Oklahoma City-based company another victory in a an effort of several years to establish itself there.

In a ruling on Friday, District Judge Robert Whelan upheld a decision by the Montana Department of Revenue granting a liquor license for the planned casino over objections from residents of Ramsay.

Among other things, Whelan said the agency correctly determined there was a public demand to justify a casino that serves alcohol and said Butte Police were able to enforce laws on the site, including those related to alcohol.

The agency granted the license, a transfer from the long-missing 5 Mile Bar and Casino, to Butte, in October 2019, but Ramsay residents appealed to Butte District Court. Whelan heard oral argument in the case in June 2020, over a year ago.

Residents say the truck stop complex will bring traffic, noise, pollution and crime to their peaceful community of 45 homes 7 miles west of Butte. They have tried to derail the project nationally and locally since Love’s announced its plans in January 2017.

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Love’s needs at least two more clearances to continue, but has won every round so far. Ramsay residents are not giving up, reiterating on Tuesday that they will follow all legal avenues to prevent the truck stop.

Love’s, as he always has despite the long haul, said he is moving forward.

“Love’s provides customers with the products and services they want, and this move brings us one step closer to being able to do that at Ramsay,” the company said in a statement Tuesday night. “Construction will begin later this year on another safe, clean and well-maintained Love in Montana.”

Love’s Travel Stops & Country Stores has more than 500 truck stops and stores in 41 states. It opened its first in Montana off I-90 in Hardin, about 60 miles east of Billings, in 2017, and has since opened one near Missoula.

According to plans, Ramsay’s will include a truck stop, Arby’s restaurant, a casino, a tire store and parking for at least 110 tractor-trailers.

Love’s said it needed a licensed casino for its truck stop to be competitive in Montana, that it had demonstrated its ability to serve alcohol legally, and that the public demand was sufficient to justify a permit.

He said about 7,850 vehicles pass through the site daily – about 25% of them are semi-trailers – and that the truck stop would be an ideal location for truckers transporting livestock to the park at neighboring cattle to stop, refuel and rest.

The revenue department issued the license for several reasons, including sufficient public demand for a casino that serves alcohol. Ramsay residents argued that the “public” should be limited to Ramsay or neighboring areas, and in those places there was certainly no demand for such a facility.

Whelan said state law on such matters does not define the public, so he could not find any error in the agency’s decision regarding the public request.

The agency also found that, based on Sheriff Ed Lester’s testimony, his department could monitor the new truck stop and the new casino. Ramsay residents argued otherwise, but Whelan sided with the revenue agency.

Lester had said Ramsay was lightly patrolled and shifted, and that the truck stop would increase the need for law enforcement, the judge noted. But he also said there are three bars in the county further than Ramsay that officers are patrolling and could handle the new one.

“This Court also finds Sheriff Lester’s testimony to be credible and sufficient to support the (agency’s) Hearing Examiner’s decision that the proposed location can be properly monitored by local authorities,” Whelan said in his decision.

Montana Standard asked Love’s for comment on the decision on Tuesday and was awaiting a response.

Jim Ayres, who is among the Ramsay residents who oppose the truck stop, said he was disappointed with the decision. This seemed to leave it entirely to the Revenue Ministry to decide what constituted the public demand, he said.

“I felt our biggest argument was that there was no public demand for it (the casino),” Ayres said. “Ramsay didn’t want it and they (Love) haven’t really proven that anyone really does. All they said was other truck stops do.

Ayres acknowledged that a few bars are further away for police, including one in Fairmont and one in Melrose, but said they were nowhere near a “high-volume casino and truck stop”.

Love’s scored another important victory last month when the Montana Department of Environmental Management gave the green light to underground fuel tanks and a lagoon system to treat sewage at the planned site. The agency said it plans to issue official permits soon.

The Montana Department of Transportation was waiting for the final DEQ permits before issuing its own approach permit for interstate widening work on the project. That was still pending on Tuesday, an MDT official said.

Ayres said he was unsure whether Whelan’s decision could be appealed, but doubted the residents of Ramsay would go any further. But they believe they have a strong case to make on the zoning issues affecting the entire truck stop.

Residents say Ramsay has had zoning bylaws on the books for decades that don’t allow such a truck stop. They tried to make this case with the zoning council last summer, but the council said planning staff had not issued a location permit for the truck stop, so there was nothing to consider for the moment.

Dylan Pipinich, the county’s deputy planning director, said on Tuesday that a locate permit had still not been issued. The county has adopted new building codes since Love’s submitted plans for the project, so it has asked Love’s for updated plans, he said.

If a permit is issued, Ayres said, residents have a lawyer and are ready to present their case to the zoning council. If the council rules against them, this decision can be appealed to the district court.

Among other things, residents argue that the entire complex, including the planned buildings, falls under Ramsay zoning and there are earlier maps to prove it. Because of this, they say, Love’s should be required to obtain a special use permit or some sort of exemption to settle there.

The board is supposed to take public comments into account in deciding these matters.


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