The U.S. Forest Service has shut down its wastewater treatment plant near Holland Lake and begun remediation efforts after testing confirmed that there was a leak in the system. The action comes after a local group opposed to an expansion of the Holland Lake Lodge filed a complaint with the Montana Department of Environmental Quality.
Meanwhile, it appears the proposed expansion of the lodge is not going to happen, at least for now. Last week, the owner of the lodge said he was no longer going to work with Utah-based POWDR on a major expansion of the resort and the facility would be put up for sale. The owner, Christian Wohlfeil, said he had grown tired of the public backlash to the proposal and claimed he had received threats.
One of the leading opponents of the plan was a group called Save Holland Lake. The plan called for new buildings that would have increased guest capacity at the lodge from 50 guests per night to 156. But some locals said that type of large-scale development could threaten the environment and character of the local community. Late last year, the U.S. Forest Service told the developer that it would need to resubmit its plans after finding inaccuracies within it, but POWDR said it planned on trying again.
Besides rallying public opinion against the project, Save Holland Lake also filed the initial complaint alleging that the Forest Service was ignoring concerns about the wastewater treatment system. The wastewater system at Holland Lake serves both a campground and the lodge. The water is treated by natural and biochemical processes inside a lagoon before being sprayed into the forest. Such systems are common in rural communities because they have lower maintenance requirements.
However, in recent years, the Forest Service has not pumped water out of the lagoons to spray into the forest as much as it did in the early 2000s, despite there not being a drop in the number of people using the facilities at Holland Lake. David Roberts, a Save Holland Lake volunteer, said that shows the lagoons were likely leaking more than what is legally permitted. That recognition prompted the DEQ investigation, and earlier this fall, DEQ asked the Forest Service to test the system.
On Wednesday, USFS officials announced that there was indeed an issue with the system, specifically that the lagoon liner was leaking. It is now working with DEQ to replace the liner.
“We are committed to maintaining and protecting water quality and, together with DEQ, will ensure appropriate actions, in compliance the Clean Water Act,” said Carol Hatfield, the acting forest supervisor for the Flathead National Forest.
It was unclear how long the repairs will take. It was also unclear who would own the wastewater system’s primary contributor going forward. The Holland Lake Lodge was put up for sale for $3.5 million, and the Daily Montanan reported that there were already some interested buyers.
In a statement posted online, POWDR officials said they were dedicated to helping Wohlfeil find a buyer who could preserve the resort first established in 1924.
“It is our sincere hope that a buyer will emerge with a desire to continue the history of the Lodge in a sustainable way that meets the challenges of Montana’s continued growth, while still offering affordable accommodations to guests,” POWDR officials wrote. “We firmly believe that success will come from intentional growth and are supportive of the state’s plans for thoughtful, sustained economic development.”
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