News & Features

County Denies Permit For Erosion Prevention Work to Owner of ‘Bridge to Nowhere’

Jolene Dugan wanted to build a dynamic equilibrium beach to curb erosion on her north shore property but commission says application was incomplete

The Flathead County Commission denied a permit for the owner of the “bridge to nowhere” near Bigfork to do erosion-prevention work on the north shore of Flathead Lake.

The commission made the decision following a public hearing on Nov. 25 after about a dozen people spoke out against giving the permit to Jolene Dugan. The hearing came four months after the Montana Supreme Court ordered Dugan to remove a controversial bridge out to a small island. However, as of late November, the bridge remains.

            The county commission cited the bridge in rejecting the permit, which had previously been approved by the Flathead County Planning Board. During the hearing, commissioners said that because the application for a dynamic equilibrium beach did not consider the presence of the bridge, it was incomplete.

In 2011, Dugan received a permit from the county to build a 519-foot bridge from the shore to Dockstader Island. Later on, a local group sued, alleging that county commissioners illegally permitted the bridge because they did not consider the visual impacts it would have on the landscape. A Flathead County judge agreed and ordered the bridge removed. Dugan appealed, but over the summer the Montana Supreme Court agreed and ordered the bridge removed.

The creation of a dynamic equilibrium beach to prevent erosion on the north shore — which is frequently impacted by changing tides as a result of the SKQ Dam — is not unusual. However, conservation advocates worried about giving the owners a permit when they had not yet removed the bridge.

“It’s inappropriate to issue a permit when the owner is currently defying a court order,” said Dave Hadden, co-chair of the Community Association for North Shore Conservation.

Others agreed, noting that it made no sense to add additional rock around the bridge if the bridge is going to be removed eventually. The commission noted that the application made no mention of removing the bridge and how that might impact the dynamic equilibrium beach.

“In my mind, this application is incomplete,” said Commissioner Pam Holmquist.

If you enjoy stories like this one, please consider joining the Flathead Beacon Editor’s Club. For as little as $5 per month, Editor’s Club members support independent local journalism and earn a pipeline to Beacon journalists. Members also gain access to, where they will find exclusive content like deep dives into our biggest stories and a behind-the-scenes look at our newsroom.