Decision on RV park delayed until Friday

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A decision about whether to grant approval for a proposed recreational vehicle park and cabin village in West Glacier has been delayed until Friday to allow time for the Flathead County commissioners to get additional information about traffic impacts.

The commissioners will reconvene at 9 a.m. Friday in their chambers on the third floor of the county Courthouse for further discussion and a vote.

Facing a May 17 deadline to take action on the preliminary plat for the West Glacier RV & Cabin Village, the commissioners asked Glacier Park Inc. Vice President and General Manager Ron Cadrette to extend the deadline to Friday, and Cadrette agreed.

GPI, which owns and operates several of Glacier National Park’s historic lodges and hotels, is the developer for the planned RV park and cabin village. The company proposes a 102-space RV park and 25 rental cabins on 180 acres off River Bend Drive.

The commissioners took public comments for about an hour on Tuesday, with many West Glacier residents reiterating concerns about traffic, wastewater treatment, the loss of wildlife habitat and the general intrusion of having such a development in the small community.

“GPI is the only winner here, with the local community taking all the losses,” Terry Divoky said. “I feel like [GPI] is slowly strangling the goose who lays the golden eggs.”

Larry Mackin of West Glacier said he isn’t opposed to the RV park but feels the conditions placed on the project still don’t mitigate all the impact. He questioned the proposed wastewater treatment plan, which is similar to the method used in Glacier Park, and wondered about the potential for leaks in the PVC liners planned for the aerated sewer lagoons. Mackin also wondered if animals could enter the holding lagoons.

Wastewater would be pumped to two lagoons for treatment; then the treated effluent would flow into a storage pond and would be disposed of on adjacent land by spray irrigation.

Approval from the Montana Department of Environmental Quality will be needed for the proposed wastewater system.

Like many of his neighbors, Mackin was perhaps most concerned about the traffic. River Bend Drive is a key arterial road in West Glacier and already is heavily impacted by the summer visitor traffic. Mackin said he feels strongly that an additional access road be developed.

Several residents agreed, saying they’d like to see GPI build between U.S. 2 and the development.

It was West Glacier resident Elizabeth Blacker’s testimony about the traffic study that largely was the impetus for the commissioners’ decision to further look at traffic data. Abelin Traffic Services of Helena conducted the study for the proposed development in October and used Glacier Park traffic data to determine traffic patterns within West Glacier, according to traffic engineer Bob Abelin. The traffic impact study estimates about 361 average daily vehicle trips will result from the RV and cabin development.

Blacker had another traffic engineer review GPI’s traffic study, which yielded a number of questions and observations that Blacker submitted to the commissioners.

“The traffic study [done for GPI] does not adequately review either average conditions, or peak summer conditions,” Blacker said. “What the study refers to as peak conditions is closer to the typical condition, which should have been used for analysis and design. But even this is likely a low estimate.”

Abelin will address Blacker’s counterpoints on traffic and report to the commissioners prior to Friday’s meeting.

Abelin said the peak traffic volume in West Glacier is 400 to 500 cars per hour during the height of the summer season. When asked by Commissioner Phil Mitchell at what point Going-to-the-Sun Road will be maxed out, Abelin said many other roads have greater peak volumes, such as Wisconsin Avenue in Whitefish — the lone arterial to the ski resort. Wisconsin Avenue has volumes of up to 1,000 cars per hour during peak times.

“[Going-to-the-Sun] Road itself is not at capacity, but the overall situation there [in West Glacier] might be,” Abelin said. “Functionally, there is not anything about that road capacity giving me great concern right now.”

Abelin’s traffic study estimated 30 to 40 cars per hour during the peak months from the RV park and cabin village.

Mitchell said he is struggling with how to handle the traffic impacts because the lion’s share of traffic in West Glacier is not being caused by the developer.

“Is there any way to get another road into the property?” Mitchell asked. “It would solve a lot of problems.”

The commissioners drilled down to the details of the planned development, asking whether the three dogs allowed per RV space may be too many. Cadrette said GPI looked at the number of dogs allowed at other RV parks and found that “three seems to be the average.” Dogs will be required to be on leashes.

Trisha McCarthy pointed out the land where the RV park and cabins are planned is crucial wintering ground for elk. She has counted 53 elk at times from her deck on Sloan Lane. There’s also plenty of bear activity in that area, she added.

The planning staff report for the project acknowledges there will be “some level of impact” to wildlife, but notes there will be about 63 acres of permanent open space on adjacent properties providing forest habitat.

GPI’s property is designated as a planned community area in the Canyon Area Land Use Regulatory System, the land-use document that guides development in the West Glacier area. The proposed development appears to meet the eligibility standards for a planned community.

Features editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 758-4421 or lhintze@dailyinterlake.com.

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