NEW DETAILS: Rehberg ignored wildfire warnings prior to lawsuit

Today is 2nd anniversary of out of touch lawsuit that cost Billings taxpayers $21k

BILLINGS — Newly discovered documents show Congressman Dennis Rehberg ignored warnings about the increased risk of wildfire on his subdivision north of Billings, six years before a wildfire that sparked his lawsuit against the city and its fire department.

Today is the second anniversary of Rehberg’s controversial lawsuit, where he demanded “monetary damanges” from the City of Billings for negligence following a 2008 wildfire on his subdivision.

In January of 2002, the Department of Natural Resources sent this letter to the City of Billings’ planning department warning of plans to redraw city limits to include Rehberg’s subdivision.

“The construction of private residences and increased use of the area by people dramatically increases the complexity of any wildfire states in the land around the development,” the letter warned.

A few weeks later, the City of Billings warned Rehberg’s subdivision “truly defines a development in the wildland/urban interface.”

Rehberg even received a warning from the Billings Fire Chief about the wildfire risk and the strain on resources that would be caused by building Rehberg Ranch Estates.

“As a Congressman, Dennis Rehberg ignored the warnings and the best interest of his neighbors, and then he blamed everyone but himself when those warnings came true,” said Aaron Murphy, a spokesman for Montanans for Tester. “Congressman Rehberg filed his costly lawsuit because he’s forgotten who he works for. His irresponsible decisions have hurt our state, and Montana can’t afford them in the U.S. Senate.”

Rehberg’s 2010 lawsuit against the City of Billings cost taxpayers $21,000.

A timeline of warning signs and actions associated with Rehberg’s decision to sue the city of Billings:

  • January 2002: Rehberg Ranch Estates seeks annexation into the City of Billings to provide fire protection services. [AP, 1/15/02]
  • January 2002: Warning sign, theMontana Department of Natural Resources says development of Rehberg Ranch Estates raises the fire risk on adjacent lands: “The construction of private residences and increase use of the area by people dramatically increases the complexity of any wildfire states in the land around the development.”

  • February 2002: Warning sign, the city of Billings responds to Rehberg Ranch Estates citing concerns that fire protection response “will be longer than most city residents.” The city indicates a need to relocate a fire station or build a new one.
  • February 2002: Warning sign, The Billings Fire Department warns Rehberg Ranch Estates of increased risk of losses due to wildfires, “it (Rehberg Ranch Estates) truly defines a development in the wildland/urban interface. This increases the trisk for losses due to wildfires.” [Rehberg Ranch Estates Public Services Report, City-County Planning Department, February 2002]
  • March 2002: The borders of Billings are redrawn to include Rehberg Ranch Estates at the request of Congressman Dennis Rehberg.
  • Spring/Summer 2002: Warning sign, a wildfire burned 20-acres in land near the subdivision.
  • July 2008: A series of wildfires break out during a period of extreme heat and wind. In total 12 fire departments and agencies help fight the fire until it was declared out on July 6. [Billings Gazette, 7/17/10]
  • July 2010: Congressman Dennis Rehberg sues the city of Billings for damage on a large section of land set aside for subdivision expansion–no homes or out buildings were damaged in the fire. [AP, 7/4/10]
  • November 2011: After the city of Billings rejects a settlement offer, Congressman Dennis Rehberg drops his lawsuit against the city during his election campaign against Jon Tester.
  • March 2012: The city of Billings releases the cost of Rehberg’s lawsuit to taxpayers: $20,761.60. [Billings Gazette, 2012]