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Battle on the river


Tom and Charlotte Robak are anxious to finish their riverfront home before winter weather potentially damages what they’ve already completed. But instead of spending their time staining wood and finishing the roof, the Robaks have had to sue Ravalli County, which served a cease and desist order on the Robaks in December 2007 since their home was—according to the Robaks’ own survey—built between the Bitterroot River’s high water marks.

Ravalli County Floodplain Coordinator Laura Hendrix noted in the order that “significant quantities of fill appear to be in both the floodway and the floodplain,” an additional violation.

The Robaks denied all charges.

Nearly a year later, the battle continues between a county seeking to prevent high water hassles and a couple opposing county streamside setback regulations. The Robaks’ September 16 suit asks that the stop work order be tossed, and for compensatory and punitive damages.

The Robaks further charge that the county should have raised their concerns during previous inspections and, according to the lawsuit, that Hendrix has since “sought to publicize her position,” by giving “malicious and patently false statements” about the home’s waterfront location to local media.

Alex Beal, Ravalli County’s former deputy county attorney, disagrees.

“You seem to assume that because newspapers are aware of what’s going on in their community, the government must be tipping them off,” Beal told the Robaks’ attorney in a May letter. “You should consider that a massive house built within the legal confines of the Bitterroot River is going to get noticed.”

Beal warned that the county would litigate largely because of the “significant possibility the home could wash down stream and destroy other property.”

According to their lawsuit, these ongoing hassles have caused the Robaks to feel unduly targeted by the county.

“Defendants have used threats…to coerce the Robaks to comply with unreasonable and unlawful demands, make false admissions and otherwise provide nonexistent information,” the lawsuit says.

Neither Hendrix nor the Robaks returned inquiries requesting comment for this story before press.

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