Landowner Applies for Flathead Lake Bridge Permit Amendment

By Beacon Staff

The landowner building a bridge from the shoreline of their property on Flathead Lake to the island they own has applied for an amendment to the permit issued to build the bridge after exceeding the length of the original design.

Jolene Dugan, the landowner, represented by her father, Roger Sortino, applied for the permit amendment with the Flathead County Planning and Zoning Office on April 28.

The bridge project has become controversial in recent months, despite having been approved by the Flathead County Commission in 2011. The landowners planned that the bridge, which would be used to restore access to a portion of private property that was once a spit but is now an island in the lake, would be 481 feet long and 16 feet wide.

But construction was put on hold after the county issued a stop-work order when the planning office was informed that the bridge would need to be longer after crews had to navigate around some obstacles.

According to the recent amendment request, the site plan in the original permit from 2011 was “grossly inaccurate,” because the northeast section of Dockstader Island shown on the permit does not exist.

“Because of the missing property, we now need 620 (feet) to reach the Island using the pile location route as installed,” the amendment request reads.

The request acknowledges that the mistake was the developer’s fault, and notes that due to new information, the plan can be modified to use only 48 piles compared to the original 76 planned for the bridge’s construction.

A new route could also have less impact on the environment, the developer wrote, because now they won’t have to blow up rock outcroppings with dynamite or cut down any old growth trees.

The largest difference would be in the bridge’s overall square footage, which would increase from 7,696 to 9,920, a figure than still falls under the allowable square footage of 14,864 outlined in the original permit.

A lakeshore permit amendment is not subject to public comment, according to the planning office; if accepted, it would be forwarded to the county commission.

The bridge project has taken some heat from neighboring landowners, who believe it is connected to the developer’s attempt to get the county to abandon public access to Flathead Lake on Holt Drive.

Lakeshore property owners have spoken publicly about dealing with trespassing from people trying to reach the lake, and the trash, tire marks and burned-out fires left behind, despite the no-trespassing signs.

If the developer wants to connect the bridge to Holt Drive with a road, Dugan would have to apply for a floodplain development permit if the road consisted of fill dirt and crushed gravel, according to the planning office. There would be no such permit required if someone wanted to just drive across a floodplain.

Another option could be trying to get the property’s status as a floodplain changed on FEMA maps.

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