Head in the Sand Development

We do planning in our valley one subdivision at a time, with no comprehensive countywide guide

By Joe Brenneman

We’ve had some gorgeous days this winter. My wife, the non-skier, points out that my perception is profoundly skewed, but when the alpenglow paints the Swan Range in soft rose light after fresh snowfall, even she agrees we live in a beautiful area. Nature has provided us with an astonishing array of riches. We have a multitude of lakes, including the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi, rich farmland, and magnificent mountains surrounding the valley, not to mention Glacier Park only 30 minutes away.

Some of us were lucky enough to be born here and the rest got here as soon as they could. As I’ve written before, I have grave concerns about what we, the humans, are going to do with this remarkable treasure. Are we going to take commonsense action to preserve this place? Or will we proceed willy nilly with a vague hope that it all works out OK?

About a half-century ago, my grandfather hauled logs out of the forests around here. He often worked with another logger we will call Paul, mainly because that was his name. Paul was a very smart, extremely hardworking man, but he didn’t always follow even limited safety precautions. He also owned a logging truck, and one day he and my grandfather loaded their trucks far up in the hills and headed toward Stoltze Lumber to unload. Paul was driving a truck loaded with logs, pulling a loaded trailer, and leading the procession.

While still in the mountains, but on a section of road that allowed for some speed, Paul’s trailer unhooked from the truck and went cartwheeling out through the roadside trees, spraying logs every which way. My grandfather honked his horn, flashed his lights, stuck his head out the window and waved his arms like a mad man, but Paul was not to be distracted. I imagine he was pretty impressed by the newfound power his truck seemed to possess. When they arrived at the mill, according to my grandfather, Paul walked around to the back of his truck and, bewildered, asked my grandfather, “Well, where’s my trailer?

If I were an artist, which I clearly am not, I would draw a series of cartoon pictures with our three county commissioners happily bouncing down the road in control of the county truck commenting on how well things are going. Behind them are groups of people shouting warnings, and trying to get their attention, all for naught. When they finally jostle to a stop and get out, they see higgledy-piggledy rooftops where farmland used to be, traffic congestion where scenic county roads once provided more than adequate passage, and degraded water that once ran clean and pure. In bewilderment, they exclaim, “Where is our beautiful valley?”

We do planning in our valley one subdivision at a time, with no comprehensive countywide guide to what we hope to achieve or, most importantly, how to go about doing it. Attempts to develop countywide plans with appropriate guidelines and strong incentives are met viciously by single-issue, and often simple-minded, ideologues whose plan appears to be, “Let’s stick our heads in the sand and see what happens.” To use the analogy above: If they had their way, they would remove the mirrors from the truck so our elected leaders would have no chance of being warned about the potentially disastrous and deleterious effects of unplanned development growth. Judging by the commissioners’ actions, or lack thereof, it appears they have already smashed them off.

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