In the latest step of a years-long debate over a bridge spanning from Flathead Lake’s north shore to a private island, the Flathead County Commission voted Monday to deny the developer’s most recent round of amendments to the project’s permit.
The amendment, heard in front of the commission on April 4, sought to add cross bracing to the bridge’s existing pilings, as well as adding a 32-inch guardrail, statues for the bridge’s abutments, and lighting for those statues.
Another addition included adding another slip to an already-approved boat dock, as well as a completely new octagonal dock that, when added to the amendment, was already eight feet wider than county regulations allow.
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 at least five times since.
The commission allowed 15 minutes of public comment on April 4, and all but one of those who spoke opposed the amendment.
Flathead County Planning Director Mark Mussman told the commission that the utility lines that would be necessary to light the statues were not part of the original project, nor were the guardrails.
Commissioner Pam Holmquist said she opposed several aspects of the permit amendment, including the idea of cross-bracing structures beneath the bridge, because it would inhibit water travel beneath it, and the waterways are public.
“The dock features are substantial and should have been in the original permit,” Holmquist said.
Commissioner Gary Krueger agreed, noting that the proposed dock “doesn’t meet the criteria we have set forth. There are numerous things that don’t fit our regulations.”
Commissioner Phil Mitchell said he couldn’t support such an application because it changed the original permit so drastically.
“The parties have done a very, very poor job [of] presenting this [project] from day one,” Mitchell said.
In response to the proposed dock that is already eight feet wider than regulations allow, Mitchell said, “I don’t know why this is even being asked.”
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.
Currently, the project developers have until June 1 to finish the bridge’s decking before the permit expires. The commission approved the most-recent permit extension last June.
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