Judge says Love’s can resume excavation of truck stops; company says delays are expensive | Local

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Butte-Silver Bow planning officials said they warned an Oklahoma City-based truck stop giant against starting construction of a Love’s truck stop next to Ramsay with a likely call from its residents in front of the Zoning Board.

Love started digging in May anyway, and since a judge ordered all construction to stop pending a decision from the zoning board, the company said it was losing lots of money with an inactive contractor, could lose subcontractors and face other costly delays.

“If Love’s does not dig and pave now, Love’s may not be able to meet its schedule and avoid delays caused by winter weather conditions,” attorneys for the company said in a motion filed Friday.

“Love’s has already spent $1 million to hire the general contractor and fuel contractor to date,” the motion reads, adding that “Love’s extensive and prompt damages in this regard are detrimental and cannot be ignored”.

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Love got some relief later Friday when District Court Judge Robert Whelan ruled the company could resume earthworks at the site 7 miles west of Butte.

He lifted his own reprieve on June 2 on an excavation permit while maintaining suspensions of four building permits until the zoning board rules on an appeal from Ramsay residents who have been fighting the roadhouse for years.

Butte-Silver Bow asked for clarification on the June 2 stays, saying one on the searches was not authorized under the county ordinance, and Whelan agreed on that legal point.

He ruled Friday that digging could resume, but that Love’s would have to remediate the site if the zoning board revoked other permits. He also said Love had to post a bond to cover possible remediation costs.

Love’s told the judge he relied on permits issued April 29 by county planning officials and “incurred significant costs to begin construction.” But planning officials and the county attorney’s office defending their decisions have previously said Love’s took that risk.

It was the latest in a string of recent local government actions and legal disputes over the planned roadhouse.

Love’s Travel Stops & Country Stores announced plans to locate a truck stop next to Ramsay in January 2017. Love’s now has over 530 truck stops and stores in 41 states, including Missoula and Hardin, Montana.

Ramsay’s would include a large convenience store, Arby’s restaurant, casino, tire store and parking for at least 111 tractor-trailers. Residents of Ramsay have fought the project, saying the truck stop will bring traffic, noise, pollution, transients and crime to their peaceful community of 40 homes.

Contractors on bulldozers and excavators began major earthworks at the site just days after the county issued building permits. Residents then asked Whelan to suspend the permits and he said the request was legally justified.

The zoning board held a hearing on the appeal last week. Residents say the permits should be revoked because the truck stop violates Ramsay’s zoning provisions and boundaries. The county disagrees and says Love has met all legal requirements for permits.

The zoning board did not rule on the appeal last week. He had 40 days from last Thursday to do so, but did not set a meeting date to discuss and decide the matter.

Butte-Silver Bow planning director Dylan Pipinich said he told Love’s the day his department issued the permits that residents were likely to appeal and that was the financial risk of the company to start construction in the meantime.

When residents requested a stay of Butte-Silver Bow’s permits, Assistant County Attorney Sean Peterson told Whelan they should have sought an injunction against Love’s. It was the entity that took a risk by starting construction before an appeal was settled, he said.

The day after Whelan granted the stays, Peterson emailed Whelan saying that Love’s was “naturally” seeking clarification on the stays, even though he was not a party to those proceedings. “I also seek clarification,” he said in the email.

He raised legal issues with a dig stay and included Love’s concerns via one of his attorneys. The attorney said Love’s had significant sums “at stake with on-site contractors”, among other things, and asked if certain work like excavation could be resumed to mitigate losses.

Whelan asked the parties to submit position statements on the permit issue and Kim Wilson, an attorney for Ramsay residents, did so, arguing that the suspension of the excavation permit and building permits should remain in effect. .

He also said that if Love wanted to intervene, he should do so officially as an “intervenor” in the case so that his positions would be part of the formal court proceedings. Love did so on Friday in a “motion to intervene.”

In this, he said the zoning board could take up to 40 days to decide on the residents’ appeal and “this delay is causing Love significant financial hardship and damage following the stay.”

With construction halted, he said, the company was incurring costs of $6,500 a day just to retain its general contractor.

“This delay alone will result in Love at least $260,000 in construction-related costs, not to mention the considerable time and resources he has now expended arguing this appeal,” the motion states.

Love said if the stay was not lifted, he would likely lose contractors even if the zoning board ruled in his favor and face further delays that would result in “substantial loss of profits.”

He said in an earlier email to Whelan that he should at least be able to continue work without binding other building permits. This included excavation work, excavation related to the placement of fuel tanks and any off-site work performed.

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