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Transportation

East Shore Highway Slated to Close as Crews Remove 110-foot Tall Pine Tree

Flathead Electric Cooperative say the temporary closure of MT 35 is necessary to prevent the rotting Ponderosa from toppling power lines

By Tristan Scott
Montana Highway 35 along the east shore of Flathead Lake on Sept. 5, 2022. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

The narrow stretch of Montana Highway 35 (MT 35) that tracks along the eastern shore of Flathead Lake, known locally as the East Shore Highway, will close temporarily on the morning of Thursday, Feb. 1, while crews work to remove a dead and rotting ponderosa pine tree that is in danger of toppling nearby power lines.

According to a joint press release from Flathead Electric Cooperative (FEC), the Montana Department of Transportation (MDT) and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), the work to remove the 110-foot-tall ponderosa pine south of Woods Bay, near Fishing Rock Lane, is anticipated to occur from 10 a.m. to noon.

Travelers will need to seek alternate routes, according to the press release, as two cranes and multiple crews will be on scene for the tree’s removal. The closure, which is weather-dependent and has already been rescheduled once, will also extend to the nearby Bear Dance Trail, USFS Trail #76, which will be closed in both directions. 

The ponderosa pine that crews will remove is located on the east side of the road at approximately mile marker 23. The tree, dead for many years, has significant rot around its base, according to the press release. Without removal, it is expected to fall across MT 35 and into the power lines. Its removal will enhance safety for the traveling public, the release states. 

“The tree’s location above MT 35 makes it extremely difficult to safely remove. However, if it were to fall, the resulting power outage would likely be prolonged, because of the limited access we have to bring in new power poles and re-string wire,” Amanda Opp, FEC’s Integrated Services Manager, stated “Being proactive is the right thing to do for the public, and greatly decreases the risk of the tree falling into the wires and sparking a wildfire.”

The tree is home to an unoccupied osprey nest. Multiple biologists from federal and state agencies were consulted about the tree’s removal and approved the same.

“From the start, we were sensitive to the osprey nest, and reached out to the USFS, the Biological Station at Flathead Lake, and Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks to ensure there were no nesting osprey in the tree, and that if the tree was removed, there would be suitable options in the area for any osprey that may return in the spring,” Opp stated. 

Ospreys migrate seasonally and are not expected to return to Northwest Montana until April. The tree’s removal is not expected to impact the birds. However, the nest will be inspected again on the day of the removal. 

A brief power outage may occur during the road closure. Co-op members can receive updates at the online Flathead Electric Outage Center.

The public is encouraged to contact Joan Redeen at 406-396-1978 with any questions or comments regarding the road closure. Motorists can stay informed about road status on the day in question by visiting https://www.511mt.net/ or downloading the MDT 511 app on their phone.  

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