Whitefish Stage Road Bluff Project Moves Forward

County hopes to have design and build team selected by end of the month, with construction scheduled to start this fall

By Molly Priddy
The landslide on Susan Storfa's property along Whitefish Stage Road, seen from Village Greens on Wednesday, March 26, 2014. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

A controversial bluff-restoration project planned in a neighborhood along Whitefish Stage Road is nearing the starting point, as the Flathead County Commission expects to select a contractor near the end of the month.

The Whitefish Stage Slope Stabilization project, started by local residents, seeks to mitigate the sloughing of a hillside above the residential Village Greens subdivision and just below another set of houses.

Extensive rain started serious sloughing about six years ago, leading several homeowners to lose chunks of their backyards. The landslides also washed into the Village Greens stormwater retention pond, hindering its function.

The slope-mitigation project, which homeowners started in 2011 with the help of county emergency services personnel and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), took on a controversial tone in 2014, when the Flathead County Commission voted to terminate a $400,000 FEMA hazard mitigation grant for the project.

Residents were upset about the vote, after the county had agreed to work with them and helped them achieve the grant. But the commission cited concerns about being held liable if something went wrong in the project.

Susan Storfa and Scott Gearheart, two of the homeowners who live on top of the affected bluff, sued the commission for its reversal and won a March 2015 decision from a Flathead County District Court judge, who said the county had to move forward with the grant.

On Aug. 9, the commission opened the proposals that it requested from contractors seeking the project’s almost $1 million contract. Only two companies sought the project: Schellinger Construction, which reported it could complete the project’s engineering and construction for no more than $945,000, and Nelcon and KLJ Engineering, which said its costs wouldn’t exceed $949,000. The commission voted to take both proposals under consideration.

Flathead County grantwriter Whitney Aschenwald said in an interview that the next step in the process is for a review committee to score the two proposals received, and to then form a recommendation to bring back to the commission.

Aschenwald said the commission could award the project to the design build team by the end of August, or early September.

“Ideally, we would like (construction) to start this fall,” Aschenwald said.

In the timeline outlined in the county’s request for proposals, the county plans to award the contract by Aug. 30, and is aiming for project completion by the end of the year.

To help provide additional funding for the project, the affected homeowners worked out a deal with the Flathead County Economic Development Authority (FCEDA) to use 17,600 cubic yards of fill removed from FCEDA’s upcoming Rail Park project site.

When including the donated fill materials, worth $176,000, the project’s cost rises to $1,128,000. Aschenwald said the construction and engineering limit on the project cannot exceed $952,000.

The timeline around the soil is still a bit up in the air, she said, because the Rail Park project is undergoing its environmental review. No soil can be dug up and moved before that review is complete, she said.

The project will focus on two main slide areas and include stabilizing the hillside to prevent further slides and to protect the homes up above as well as the pond and land below. Crews will also remove sediment and debris from the pond, returning it to its pre-slide state.

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