Update: An earlier version of this story misstated the date of the upcoming Whitefish City Council meeting. It is Feb. 5.
A dredging project on the north end of Whitefish Lake recently won the approval of the planning board as homeowners seek to rid a man-made canal of excessive silt they say is limiting boater access.
The request by Gordon Tait for a major lakeshore variance to dredge approximately 1.31 acres of the Lazy Bay Channel was approved in a 5-1 vote on Jan. 18, despite concerns about plans to deposit the material on an adjacent island in county jurisdiction.
According to the application, the project involves suctioning 6,000 cubic yards of sediment from the floor of a channel that is 700 feet long and 100 feet wide. It has the unanimous support of the 13 homeowners living on the creek.
The Whitefish Lakeshore Protection Committee voted against the project due to concerns that the deposited material could negatively impact the lake during runoff.
“Our number one concern was over the material coming back into the lake,” said Koel Abell, a member of the Whitefish Lakeshore Protection Committee.
The Lazy Bay Channel was originally created as a man-made canal in the early 1970s prior to the creation of lakeshore regulations. Over the years, the channel’s entrance has silted in, reducing navigability for homeowners along the water, which they say reduces property value and diminishes their ability to enjoy lakeshore access on boats or personal watercraft.
Brent Stratton, a homeowner on the island, said when he bought his home he knew the channel was silty. However, he said he was assured that it would be removed as it accumulated, just as was done in 1991 and again in 2001.
“I was under the impression that it was akin to snowplowing the roads, that it was just maintenance,” he said.
The variance calls for some measures to reduce the potential environmental impact to the lake, including requiring the use of turbidity curtains, and the staff report states that the long-term water quality of the lake would improve. It also requires any dredging equipment to be inspected for aquatic invasive species.
Tait, the applicant and a homeowner on Lazy Bay, implored the planning board members to approve the dredging project.
“We won’t even let our dog go in the water because I don’t think he could get out,” he said. “Last year a buck got stuck in the silt and drowned. Only his horns were sticking out of the water. If the buildup of silt continues without mitigation, there will be serious consequences to landowners.”
The variance now heads to the Whitefish City Council Feb. 5 for final action.