Flathead County

County Commission to Vote on Lakeshore Regulation Amendments

Rule change stemming from Lake Five lawsuit will require commission to approve lakeshore construction permits

By Micah Drew
Lake Five in West Glacier on May 29, 2020. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

The Flathead County Commission is expected to vote on revisions to the text of the county’s lake and lakeshore protection regulations at its April 13 meeting.

The proposed changes, which strip the county’s Planning and Zoning Office of the ability to approve or deny lakeshore applications, were given a unanimous positive recommendation by the county planning board earlier this month.

According to Planning Director Mark Mussman, the initial regulations, as written in 1982, stated that “the governing body shall seek the recommendations of the planning board” for any changes that fall under the regulations. The initial text also included an opportunity for summary review that allowed the county commission to approve lakeshore construction applications if the work was found to have “a minimal or insignificant impact on the lake, lakebed or its lakeshore.”

A 1989 amendment to the regulations allowed the county Planning and Zoning Office to issue administrative permits for minimal or insignificant impact projects, which include docks, decks, walkways, waterlines, rip rap, free-standing pilings adjacent to docks, small-scale tree and vegetation removal and utility line work. Since then, the planning office has issued administrative permits without passing them through the planning board or county commission review process.

The proposed revisions to the text alter the application and review procedure for lakeshore applications to give commissioners the sole ability to grant administrative permits. There is also an added process to appeal the interpretation of the regulations.  

A lawsuit over a controversial development on Lake Five prompted the procedural change after the Friends of Lake Five sued the county, alleging it had illegally granted administrative permits for various lakeshore projects.

The plaintiff argued that issuing an administrative permit for lakeshore construction without public input or planning board review violated Montana Code Annotated 75-7-208.

In a memo to the planning board, Mussman wrote that county legal staff concluded the Montana Code does not allow the planning office to issue lakeshore construction permits, and that the commissioners had requested the amendment to the regulations. Mussman also indicated that the planning office stopped issuing permits last summer.

The regulation amendments will also include a name change to a lake referenced from Lost Coon Lake to Lost Loon Lake. A Flathead County District Court judge approved the name change in August. 

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