The “Bridge to Nowhere” on Flathead Lake’s north shore remains in place more than a year after the local district court ruled that it must be removed. Many people across the Flathead Valley have asked when it will come down. That is a longer story, which we hope to tell here.
Wildlife refuges represent the dominant land use on the north shore of Flathead Lake, both east and west of the Flathead River where it enters the lake. Refuges were established in part to compensate for loss of the original wetland habitat when Seli’š Ksanka Qlispe’ Dam (formerly the Kerr Dam) was built in 1938. The north shore of Flathead Lake provides a critical resting area for thousands of ducks and geese as they migrate through our valley in spring and fall.
The offending bridge to “Dockstader Island” is located about halfway between the river and Bigfork. This stretch of shoreline is appreciated by hundreds for its scenic beauty. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks manages the Osprey View Fishery Conservation Area refuge immediately west of the bridge property; it remains open year-round.
Protecting the north shore for wildlife and the public’s enjoyment of the spectacular recreational and scenic resources has been at the center of our legal efforts to protect this special place. The county’s decision to permit a two-lane, 481-foot vehicular bridge violated both the spirit of the place and our Montana Lakeshore Protection Act. The County’s decision needed to be challenged, and now the bridge needs to come out.
The Flathead District Court issued its original judgment on September 16, 2016. The court found that the permit for the bridge was invalid since it was granted by the Commissioners in violation of the County’s lakeshore protection regulations. We prevailed at great financial cost in defending the public interest by forcing the County to adhere to its own rules.
But winning, we have learned, does not mean that court proceedings end. All parties had the opportunity to ask the judge to reconsider or modify his decision. This required filing additional legal briefs, and waiting for our overworked judge to issue a subsequent ruling.
The judge did issue an amended judgment on April 19, 2017. This ruling settled all issues except whether Flathead County and the developer will be required to pay attorney fees to those attempting to defend the public interest.
And that is where we are now. The court will decide on attorney fees when it has the time to address the case again. We look forward to that decision.
But even then, it will likely take at least another year to settle all legal claims if any side decides to appeal to the Montana Supreme Court. So, at this point, the public should know that it will be a while longer before the Bridge to Nowhere finally comes down.
We appreciate the community’s continued interest and support on this issue.
Hadden is chair of the Community Association for North Shore Conservation. He was joined in signing this letter by board members Jeffrey Funk, Mary Jo Naïve, Edd Blackler and Lauren Grabelle.