Flathead County Commissioner Phil Mitchell has been charged with felony criminal mischief for allegedly destroying cottonwood trees on a small county-owned park adjoining his property to Whitefish Lake, according to law enforcement.
Sheriff Chuck Curry confirmed his office investigated a complaint that Mitchell had killed the trees. Authorities hired an arborist to estimate the value of the trees as well as the cost of replanting them, which totaled more than $30,000.
“We obtained a professional bid on the trees and it was over $30,000, which makes it a felony,” Curry said Wednesday night.
Mitchell, who is scheduled to appear in Flathead County District Court on Aug. 31 before Judge Heidi Ulbricht, did not immediately return calls for comment. He was issued a summons on Wednesday but is currently out of the state, according to Curry.
Mitchell’s property and the adjacent county parkland is located just south of Whitefish Lake State Park on the west shore.
“The park is just a small strip of lakeshore that the county owns and maintains,” Curry said. “It’s not very well known. There’s no boat launch.”
Mitchell, a former member of the Whitefish City Council from 2010 to 2013, was elected to the Flathead County Board of Commissioners in 2014. He owns property along West Lakeshore Drive, in a contentious area girding the city of Whitefish known as the “doughnut,” which Flathead County assumed jurisdictional control over in July 2014 following a ruling by the Montana Supreme Court.