The Montana Department of Revenue will hear arguments for and against a liquor license for Love’s planned truck stop near Ramsay on Thursday, and one opponent says at least 100 people have submitted formal protest letters against it.
The hearing is set for 9 a.m. at the Butte-Silver Bow Archives, but comments before an administrative law judge will be limited to representatives of Love’s and those who sent in timely protest comments. It could be a month or two or longer before a decision is made.
Joel Silverman, a Helena attorney representing some Ramsay residents who oppose the license, said the state agency sometimes denies liquor license transfers.
“It doesn’t happen often but they don’t come up often like this, where someone is trying to put a liquor license in a place that has never had one,” Silverman said Monday.
Love’s is seeking a liquor license transfer from the now-defunct 5 Mile Bar & Casino in Butte and Thursday’s hearing is another sign it’s moving forward with plans to build a sprawling truck stop with a casino off Interstate 90 next to Ramsay, 7 miles west of Butte. The license would allow beer, wine and liquor to be sold at the casino.
Love’s Travel Stops & Country Stores, an Oklahoma City-based corporation with more than 480 truck stops and stores in 41 states, has declined to give The Montana Standard any updates about its plans in recent months. Emails were sent again Monday seeking comment.
Love’s has a stormwater permit from the Montana Department of Environmental Quality that allows the company to start general construction activities. The agency said recently that Love’s still needed OKs for underground storage tanks and its wastewater system.
But Dave Palmer, Butte-Silver Bow’s chief executive, said it was his understanding that Love’s “is still planning on moving forward.” Even if they didn’t get the liquor license, Palmer said, “I’m not sure that would stop the project.”
Many residents in Ramsay have been trying to derail the project, saying it would bring noise, congestion, pollution and crime to their tiny, quiet community. Their efforts have failed so far but the liquor license gives them another avenue of opposition.
The state now auctions off new liquor licenses, but that does not apply to transfers. They require an application and then investigation by the revenue department and Montana Department of Justice to confirm that legal requirements are met.
The process includes taking protest letters from the public, which in this case was limited to residents of Butte-Silver Bow and its adjoining counties of Anaconda-Deer Lodge, Beaverhead, Jefferson, Madison and Powell.
Protests can be based on the applicant’s qualifications or grounds for denial listed in state statute. Examples of valid protests include an applicant unlikely to operate within the law, a location that can’t be properly policed by local authorities, the welfare of nearby people being adversely affected, or no public convenience or need to justify a license.
Jim Ayres, a Ramsay resident who has helped lead efforts opposing the truck stop, said at least 100 people submitted protest letters. He said some argue a license isn’t needed because there are six in operation in Rocker just 3 miles away.
Silverman said he doesn’t represent all 100 or so who sent in letters, but he does represent some and his plan is to have six to 10 of them testify in opposition at Thursday’s hearing.
Among other things, he said, they will speak against a liquor license where there has never been one and question whether police can adequately patrol a distant area where alcohol is served.
The revenue department doesn’t turn down license transfers often, he said, but the circumstances in Ramsay aren’t typical.
“It’s pretty rare when you have an entire community against a license,” Silverman said.
The agency considers protests, responses from the applicant (in this case Love’s) and other factors such as financial matters and proposed locations in deciding whether to grant a license.
Silverman said the department usually takes a month or two before it rules on protested transfers, but it can be longer. Either side can appeal the decision in Montana District Court.
According to details Love’s has provided county officials, the truck stop would include a large convenience store, a casino, an Arby’s restaurant, a tire shop, and parking for at least 110 tractor trailers.
Love’s has said it would mean 60 to 80 jobs, ranging from part-time to a handful of managerial positions, and all employees start above minimum wage and get benefits.
Love’s opened its first Montana truck stop along I-90 near Hardin, about 60 miles east of Billings, in 2017. Its second location is under construction near Missoula.