North Shore Residents Agree to Purchase Agreement

By Beacon Staff

A long-term plan to conserve the North Shore of Flathead Lake took a pivotal step forward last week when the Flathead Land Trust signed a purchase agreement with Doug and Donna Miller for a 160-acre parcel of farmland adjacent to the Federal Waterfowl Production Area in Somers.

The $1.9 million purchase agreement includes plans for a state park and campground (no more than 25 acres) near the popular waterfowl hunting area. The parcel is just east of the proposed site for the North Shore Ranch, a 290-lot subdivision that was denied by Flathead County commissioners 2-1 in April. A month earlier, the Flathead County Planning Board had recommended approval of the North Shore Ranch subdivision 5-1, but concerns over flooding, ground stability and effects on wildlife were enough to concern the commission.

North Shore Ranch developers, Sean Averill and Keith Simmons, have since filed a lawsuit to overturn the decision.

The current agreement for the 160-acre parcel must first go through a public review process, and gain favor from the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission and the state Land Board before the Flathead Land Trust turns the property over to FWP.

“The mantra that we live by is access,” Dave Landstrom, regional parks manager for FWP, said. “We hear the people loudly and clearly; they want access to the resources. That’s what we have going for us and why people live hear. It’s our job to develop enough access for the demand.”

A one-time $10 million Access Montana fund, approved by the 2007 Legislature, will pay $1.8 million of the purchase price, with the difference made up by private donations, including grants from Nature Conservancy and the Doris Duke Foundation.

The Miller property is part of a broader effort by the land trust and other conservation groups to protect the approximately 1,600 acres of wetlands and farmlands that start in Somers and stretch to Montana Highway 83. The area provides suitable habitat for waterfowl, deer and other animals as well as recreation opportunities.

“It’s a rare opportunity,” said Marilyn Wood, executive director of the Flathead Land Trust.“ “People are interested and we are getting the money together; it’s an awesome vision.”

The same offer the Millers accepted, one reached by appraisal, has been offered to the other landowners in the area, and Wood says all but one of the parties is interested in some aspect of the overall vision to keep the 1,600-acre tract intact.

The lone party still on the fence is the North Shore Ranch Developers.

“It’s not that they aren’t interested – and we’d like to involve them – but they want to see the lawsuit carried out first,” Wood said.

If the county commission’s decision is rescinded, Wood feared the subdivision, which would share an eastern border with the Flathead Waterfowl Production Area, would dissuade nearby landowners from wanting to sign a purchase agreement. But she, like the commission, remains very hesitant to put a development next to a state park.

“It just doesn’t make sense.”