Flathead County commissioners are expected to decide on a permit for the Glacier Guides Lodge in West Glacier before the end of the month after the they voted to delay their decision on Jan. 4, citing concerns about the lodge’s water supply, septic system and capacity rates.
The lodge – run by Camp Winnakee, LLC – operated under a minor land use permit as a bed and breakfast on Highline Boulevard throughout the summer before the health department shut it down for not having the proper permits.
Since then, Glacier Guides has applied for a major land use permit for the lodge. The Middle Canyon Land Use Advisory Committee recommended approval on Nov. 30 and the Flathead County Planning Board also recommended approval for the permit on Dec. 8. It went before the county commission on Jan. 4.
The lodge also needs a public accommodation license from the county environmental health department.
The state Department of Environmental Quality approved the lodge’s septic system, with the requirement that it only serve 24 people per day. During the Jan. 4 meeting, Commissioner Dale Lauman expressed concern about potential groundwater contamination if the system is overloaded.
“If there were a sewer system there I’d say, ‘Yes, it’s a go,’” Lauman said. “Once we contaminate water in an area, it’s contaminated.”
The key number for the lodge is 24 – the maximum number of people allowed to stay in the facility. Any more than that and the lodge’s water system would technically be considered public.
“A water system that serves 25 or more people at least 60 days out the year is a public water supply,” Russell said. “The rules change with public water.”
Some of these differences include greater setback requirements and higher construction standards, Russell said. The health department is not going to visit the lodge every day to make sure it is complying with the capacity requirements, he added.
“That’s why we have an ongoing issue there. We are going to need assurance that they put conditions in place upon themselves that they don’t violate or exceed that number of 24 per day,” Russell said.
At the Jan. 4 commissioner’s meeting, Denny Gignoux, speaking on behalf of Glacier Guides, told the commission that he and his partners had previous experience running the Granite Park Chalet, and could apply capacity standards to the lodge in a similar way.
Russell said in an interview after the meeting that the health department would not move forward on the project until capacity controls are in place.
During the commissioners’ meeting, several West Glacier residents spoke against issuing the permit, saying they were concerned about the possibility of the septic system overloading and contaminating the groundwater. They also questioned the lodge’s decision to drill its own well instead of hooking in to the public water supply.
Commissioner Jim Dupont told Gignoux that the commission would delay a decision on the permit for two weeks so Glacier Guides could work out differences with its neighbors.
After the commissioners’ meeting, Gignoux said he wished Glacier Guides had started the project by pursuing a major land use permit.
“As a business, we chose the one we thought would be faster and we thought would cost less and it turns out neither of those are true,” Gignoux said.
Gignoux said he and his partners planned on meeting with their neighbors to discuss myriad issues surrounding the project, including the water supply.
“We enjoy our neighbors, we care about our neighbors, and we’re happy to work with them to get through all this,” Gignoux said.
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