County commissioners deny lakeshore variance request

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  • Courtesy of TODD WARE Boats gather around Dockstader Island near the controversial bridge constructed by Jolene Dugan and Roger Sortino.

  • 1

    A construction crew works on Dockstader Island Bridge in Bigfork on Monday. (Aaric Bryan/Daily Inter Lake)

  • Courtesy of TODD WARE Boats gather around Dockstader Island near the controversial bridge constructed by Jolene Dugan and Roger Sortino.

  • 1

    A construction crew works on Dockstader Island Bridge in Bigfork on Monday. (Aaric Bryan/Daily Inter Lake)

During a public meeting on Monday, the Flathead County Commissioners voted unanimously to deny a request for a major lakeshore variance after determining the application’s accompanying environmental impact study was incomplete.

The applicant, Jolene Dugan, submitted a request for a major variance to Flathead County Lake and Lakeshore Protection Regulations for the application of 825 cubic yards of gravel in order to re-establish a dynamic equilibrium beach on multiple properties on Holt Drive in Bigfork. The request was submitted because the amount of gravel fill needed to repair the eroding shorelines exceeded regulatory limits.

The commissioners said that although the rehabilitation efforts were probably necessary, the environmental impact study failed to include any information on how the court-ordered removal of a controversial land bridge, which exists on the same parcel, may impact the property’s shorelines. They said the cart may have been put before the horse in that additional repairs to the shoreline might be needed after the land bridge has been removed.

“The application provides little compelling expert testimony that shows whether the bridge would or wouldn’t conflict with the hydrology of equilibrium beach at this location,” said commissioner Randy Brodehl. “The bridge removal may alter the environmental impact statement.”

In 2016, Dugan and Roger Sortino erected a 519-foot bridge to the private Dockstader Island on Flathead Lake. A local conservation group later sued Flathead County for permitting the bridge, claiming it violated the Lakeshore Protection Act. Flathead County District Court Judge Robert Allison later ruled in favor of the conservation group and in July of 2019, ordered it be demolished, but did not provide a timeline for removal or who would be financially responsible for the associated costs.

It’s been months since the court order, and no progress towards tearing down the bridge has been made. The lack of progress has proven frustrating to many who pushed to have the bridge removed and was the focus of public comment from multiple Flathead County residents at Monday’s meeting.

“Consideration of this permit in isolation without regard to the bigger picture understanding of a landowner’s history and intentions would be reckless,” said Jeffrey Funk with the Community Association for North Shore Conservation. “The applicant has shown brazen disregard for permit restrictions in the past.”

Everyone who spoke at the meeting insisted the bridge be removed before any other request is granted. Several people said that poor behavior “should not be rewarded.” To date, all public comments either written or verbal regarding the request have been against it.

In September, the Bigfork Land Use Advisory Committee recommended the request be denied, echoing the commissioners’ thoughts by stating the application was “premature.” However, the Flathead County Planning and Zoning Board eventually forwarded a recommendation of the request after significant conversation.

Dugan may reapply for the major lakeshore variance after a new environmental impact study is performed. »

Reporter Kianna Gardner can be reached at 758-4407 or kgardner@dailyinterlake.com.

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