Flathead Lake Log Salvage Could Begin in September

By Beacon Staff

New details are emerging in the plan to salvage decades-old submerged logs from the floor of Flathead Lake. Should the state Land Board approve the project at its August meeting, North Shore Development Co. could begin pulling logs as soon as September, according to Greg Poncin, Kalispell Unit Manager for the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation.

The DNRC will be accepting public comment on the draft environmental assessment of the plan until July 21. Based on a sparsely attended open house in Lakeside July 8, the log salvage proposal appears mostly uncontroversial thus far.

But the Flathead Lakers, while not opposing the project, say the EA raises questions as to how much sediment the log removal could stir up.

“We just had a lot of questions,” Robin Steinkraus, executive director of the Flathead Lakers, said. “At the very least we will encourage them to extend the comment period to allow the (Flathead Lake) Biological Station to take a look at it.”

Following an October 2008 settlement agreement over the ownership of the logs on the lakebed, the DNRC is preparing to issue North Shore a 10-year license to salvage logs north of Point Caroline and Long Beach. To avoid damaging the shoreline or the Environmental Protection Agency superfund site in Somers Bay, no log removal will occur in those areas.

Under the settlement, North Shore owns the logs marked with a circled “N” end stamp, as part of a chain of title from the Somers Lumber Company, while the state retains ownership of all other submerged logs on the lakebed. North Shore estimates it could initially salvage 20-30 logs daily, and eventually pull 50 a day from the water, amounting to roughly 800 logs a month or 5,600 during the operating season.

Log recovery would be limited to 5-acre areas, identified by GPS coordinates, and approval would be required from the DNRC before moving from one 5-acre section to the next.

At the Lakeside open house, Jay Barth, a diver with Bigfork-based NorthWest Dive and Recovery, explained the logs would be retrieved primarily two ways. The first method involves the diver carrying lift bags that would be attached to the lines tied around the logs, then inflated to float the logs to the surface. If it was impossible for the diver to fish a line beneath a log, the rope could be attached to a bolt or fastener hammered into the wood. The other method involves using the lift bag to float the line attached to the log to the surface, then raising the log via winches on the hauling boat.

Within the 5-acre retrieval area, search lanes approximately 25 feet apart would be laid out using a floating line. Divers will then “zig-zag” across the search lanes, attaching markers or lift bags to the logs to be removed.

Once the logs are brought to the surface, they would be secured to the front of the haul boat, between its pontoons. That allows the boat to pull over the top of the logging truck trailer at whichever boat ramp is being used as the extraction point. The ends of the logs would then be secured to the truck, allowing the truck to pull away and the boat to return to the lake for further salvage. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks has given permission to remove the first 200 logs from the Somers Bay boat launch. Once recovered, the logs will be brought to a staging area 6 miles north of Somers Bay.

According to the draft EA, any silt or sediment kicked up by the logs would settle after less than two hours, and divers would attempt to stay off the lake floor as much as possible to avoid kicking up any further sediment.

“We’re going to brush the silt off before we lift them,” Barth said.

But Steinkraus questioned whether the largest logs would kick up more sediment that could take longer to settle, and also wondered whether the logging trucks could cause delays at boat ramps during busy days.

Jim Cancroft of forestry consulting company Northwest Management Inc., which is handling the salvage operation for North Shore, said there is talk of working with scientists from the Biological Station to monitor sediment during salvage operations. As for potential boat ramp backups, much of the log recovery will occur during the fall and spring.

“We’re kind of trying to stay away from the summer months,” Cancroft said. “We would like to mostly do it off-peak.”

To comment on the project, e-mail Poncin at [email protected] or submit it via mail to: Greg Poncin, DNRC Kalispell Unit Manager, 655 Timberwolf Parkway, Suite 2, Kalispell MT 59901.

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