Judge Slashes Wilderness Club Damages by $975,000

By Beacon Staff

A Lincoln County District Court judge ruled that the Wilderness Club, an exclusive golf community outside of Eureka with a course designed by PGA legend Nick Faldo, has to pay only $25,000 in punitive damages instead of the $1 million a jury had previously awarded two landowners.

The Wilderness Club still has to pay $356,500 in compensatory damages for loss of property, which occurred when the club’s developers cleared out a swath of trees on the property of Craig and Lisa McKay for a roadway leading to a golf maintenance facility. Sean Frampton, the club’s attorney, said he will appeal the compensatory damages.

On April 4, a District Court jury in Libby found that the Wilderness Club acted in malice when it cleared out the trees and awarded $1 million in punitive damages to the McKays, on top of the $356,500. Judge Michael Prezeau reviewed the jury’s findings, as mandated by law, and ruled that the punitive damages were excessive, a claim that Frampton had argued.

Citing Montana state laws and caps on the amount of punitive damages allowed, Prezeau arrived at the $25,000 figure, knocking $975,000 off the original amount.

The Wilderness Club is a 550-acre golf community that will include 272 home sites, 47 luxury cabins and its centerpiece: the Faldo-designed golf course. It will also include golf practice facilities, a spa, clubhouse, lodge, natural trail system, concierge service and other features. A short distance from its western boundary is Lake Koocanusa.

The club owns 50 acres in the Koocanusa Estates subdivision northwest of Eureka, the same subdivision where the McKays own 30. Last May the club’s developers cleared out trees on the McKays’ property as the initial step for a roadway leading to a golf maintenance facility. A year earlier, trees had been cleared there to make room for the building.

Following a series of injunctions, the trial was held in Libby in early April of this year, resulting in the damage awards for the McKays.

The golf course will open this summer and the maintenance facility will also be completed by then, though various features like the clubhouse will still need more time. The course snakes through four miles of the Tobacco Valley, with the 30-acre Wilderness Lake resting in the middle.

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