Commission Rules Against New Boating Rules on Echo Lake

By Beacon Staff

The Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission voted against new boating rules on Echo Lake during its meeting earlier this month. The decision has left some residents, including Eugene Hutz, frustrated because he says waves are eroding the shoreline.

Late last year, a group of residents submitted a petition to FWP to establish a no-wake zone on the lake when it floods. In 2011 and 2012, the lake flooded and blocked access to some homes along the lake.

“I’m really disappointed,” Hutz said. “I’m for some sort of responsible regulation.”

The commission reviewed an amendment asking that Causeway Bay be designated a no-wake zone year round; that a no-wake zone be implemented during high water on Echo, Abbott and Peterson lakes; and that wake-enhancing methods be banned on Echo Lake.

In 2011, Montana FWP established a no-wake zone at the request of Flathead County because of health concerns over leaks from drain fields and septic tanks. In 2012 a no-wake zone was discussed by the Flathead County Commission and FWP, but ultimately denied because there was no health threat, which meant legally the agencies couldn’t restrict boats on the lake.

The proposed rules were the subject of a packed public hearing in February, where most of the people who spoke during the two-hour hearing most were opposed to any new rules. Hutz and his wife Susan were among those who spoke in favor of restrictions.

“A lot of the people who oppose the rules don’t live here year round,” he said. “They come here for a few months to boat and it seems to me that they don’t care about their neighbors.”

But many of those who attended the February meeting said that erosion and high water is just something homeowners should expect if they live along a lake. One resident likened it to living next to a golf course.

“I’ve never complained or asked anyone for anything (when repairing my property),” said Ed Baldi, who has lived along the lake since 2002.

Proponents of the new rules said if shoreline erosion continued and the biology of the lake changed, property values would drop. But opponents countered that if boating was restricted, people would be less interested in living there and argued that there is not enough data to support the claim that boats are damaging the shore.

Hutz said the spring melt has already begun and Echo Lake is on the rise once again.

“If we’re going towards flood stage again and there are more boating problems this year, then it’s going to be a big issue,” he said.

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