More than 100 people expressed nearly unanimous opposition to a proposed boat storage and dock facility on Flathead River at a Flathead Conservation District public meeting Thursday night.
Only one person spoke in favor of the proposed project which would create a commercial marina to launch and store private boats on 25 acres of unzoned, riverfront property on Riverside Road about three miles south of Creston. The first phase of the project would include construction of three ramps, two 40-foot docks and two storage buildings able to hold up to 90 boats.
When fully constructed, the facility would include five storage buildings, making it capable of storing up to 270 boats – some as long as 44 feet. Peak use is estimated at 80 boat launches per day.
Since the project has drawn considerable public interest, the Flathead Conservation District, one of the permitting agencies handling the proposal, held Thursday’s meeting at the Hilton Garden Inn in Kalispell to explain their review process and collect public comment. Representatives from the Flathead County Planning and Zoning Office and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, both of which also have roles in the permitting process, were also present.
The project brings into question what the district can take into account when analyzing a property. The conservation district said they are charged only with reviewing the parts of the proposal within the floodplain – in this case, riprap, docks and ramps – not secondary impacts like boat wakes. Traditionally, the review process only includes permitting agencies and the applicant and doesn’t allow for negative public comment or future impacts to be taken into consideration when approving or denying a permit.
But citizens demanded the opposite during public comment, saying the district shouldn’t ignore the large number of unified landowners against the proposal and cited concerns with everything from effects on wildlife to international influences on Canadian mining proposals. The general consensus of the comments was that the proposed marina was too big of a commercial project to place eight miles upstream from Flathead Lake, in a neighborhood that was already suffering from significant struggles with erosion.
“I believe in property rights, but I’ve taken care of my property,” Henry Oldenburg, who owns land downstream near Sportsman’s Bridge, said. “I’ve put riprap on there every year since I was 10, and I watch it get ripped off and destroyed by boats.”
Pete Rice, owner of North Country Automotive and Marine, spoke in defense of his proposed project near the beginning of the meeting, saying it would meet a need for affordable river and lake access. “This will let the average citizen, otherwise faced with crowded ramps or moorage at a very high cost, enjoy the lake or the river.”
The conservation district will revisit the project at its Monday meeting on March 10, but will likely postpone a decision until April in order to take into account the large number of public comments received at the meeting. If approved by the district, the project will still have to obtain permits from several other governing agencies, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Montana Department of Environmental Quality and Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks, as well as meet the Flathead County Planning and Zoning Office’s floodplain evaluation.
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