Bridge Project Receives Fifth Permit Extension from County

Extension gives developers another year to finish the project

By Molly Priddy
The bridge to Dockstader Island on May 2, 2015. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

The Flathead County Commission approved another permit extension for the bridge spanning private property on Flathead Lake, which developers say should give them enough time to finish the remaining portion of the project.

The bridge, which runs from the mainland to Dockstader Island, has been a controversial project, started by Jolene Dugan and her father, Roger Sortino. The county approved the lakeshore construction permit in 2011, and that permit has been extended four times since.

In January, the commission approved an extension that would last until June 1. The developers requested a new extension on May 15. On June 3, the commission unanimously approved the new permit extension, which will last until June 1, 2016.

Opponents to the bridge, the Community Association for North Shore Conservation, filed a lawsuit in Flathead County District Court against the county and the commission, claiming the commissioners unlawfully issued a permit for the bridge in 2011 without notifying the public and hearing input from all sides.

During the June 3 hearing, Commissioner Pam Holmquist expressed concern over whether the ongoing lawsuit should affect their decision on the extension. Deputy County Attorney Tara Fugina said there had not yet been any directives from the court in that case.

“Whether or not the extension may have an impact on current litigation, I cannot tell you,” Fugina said.

Commissioner Phil Mitchell, who commented that he was “struggling with approving this,” asked the developers’ attorney, Richard Dejana, if the developers could indeed adhere to the two-week schedule they laid out in the extension request, which noted that the project was 90 percent complete and the remaining 10 percent would be topping the structure with concrete.

Dejana said the developer could stick with the timeline and requested the ability to do the work in the spring. Flathead County Planning and Zoning Director BJ Grieve said regardless of when the concrete is poured, it cannot be poured over open water.

Commissioner Gary Krueger said he would base his decision for the extension on the developers’ work in the last year.

“It appears that the contractor has made an effort to finish this project in this cycle,” Krueger said.

Krueger added that the permit is merely extended, not changed. He also told Dejana that it would be in the developers’ best interests to keep out of the lakebed, which has been a bone of contention in recent months after the developers used logs to keep their machinery from slicing, gouging, or rutting the lakebed.