District Court Judge Rod Souza rejected a request by the Montana Race Horse Owners and Breeders Coalition, (MRHOBC), to place an injunction against Yellowstone County to halt the demolition of the Grandstands at Metra Park.
The MRHOBC claimed that the County Commissioners did not attempt to explore the potential of placing the Grandstands on the National Register of Historic Places and that the demolition would irreparably harm horse racers and breeders.
The county rebutted that commissioners followed proper legal procedures over many months, in deciding to demolish the Grandstands. They also pointed out that the decision to demolish them was made over four months ago, during which time there was no response by MRHOBC. And, also that the county commissioners were not obligated to pursue the historical status.
Jeana Lervick, Chief In-House Counsel for the County Attorney’s office, said in the county’s rebuttal, “Plaintiff is not irreparably harmed and there is no emergency warranting the Court’s intervention.” She pointed out that Dan Fuchs, President of MRHOBC, had several times spoken to commissioners and others at public meetings about his organization’s interests and concerns. The county encouraged them to participate in an on-going planning process for the future.
On behalf of the county, Lervick asked that the court make a decision without holding a hearing.
After explaining that the court is not allowed to skip a hearing process, Judge Souza held a hearing on Friday after which he concluded that the county was acting within its authority to demolish the grandstands. He said, “…the Coalition’s interests may be met by participating in the public planning process.” Also, he stated, “As the County argued at hearing, disagreement with the Commissioners’ decision does not create a legal basis for the extraordinary remedy of injunction.”
Souza also pointed out that the Coalition was making arguments “that are not appropriate for the judiciary. . . judiciary action cannot be based on disagreement with policy decisions…Commissioners’ decision to demolish the Grandstands is a political question.”
MRHOBC is anticipating being able to finance horseracing in the future through Historical Horseracing gambling proceeds and the group hopes to resume horseracing at the Grandstands next year. It’s been nine years since there has been horseracing in Yellowstone County.
Fuchs said, after hearing the court’s decision, that the commissioners have yet to justify to taxpayers about a failure to take advantage of potential grants that are available through the historical registration process that could help refurbish the grandstands.
Lervick commented about the decision, “The Commissioners are glad to proceed with their plans and are hopeful that the Association and community will voice their hopes for what the future of MetraPark will hold.”