Seeley Swan Pathfinder -

By Nathan Bourne
Pathfinder 

Holland Lodge expansion proposal discussed at Council

 

September 29, 2022



SWAN VALLEY - Dozens of residents filled the Swan Valley Community Hall Sept. 20 for the Swan Valley Community Council meeting. While the Holland Lake Lodge expansion proposal was merely a side note on the agenda, it consumed half of the two and a half hour long meeting.

Swan Lake District Ranger Chris Dowling and Planning Team Lead Shelli Mavor were present to represent the United States Forest Service (USFS) and answer questions. Flathead National Forest Supervisor Kurt Steele, who is the deciding official on the Lodge expansion issue, was not in attendance.

Current Holland Lake Lodge owner Christian Wohlfeil was also on hand and provided some information on the sale of the Lodge and answered questions. No one from POWDR, the future owners of the Lodge, spoke at the meeting.

Wohlfeil said he has had eight formal offers on the Lodge and this is the third time it’s been under contract since it went up for sale six years ago. With the exception of POWDR, everyone that looked at buying the Lodge asked how they could exclude the public and make it private.

“POWDR walked in and said, we’d actually like a smaller summer oriented recreation place that is really special and yet has room to improve,” said Wohlfeil.

Wohlfeil said POWDR understands the special use permit system because they deal with it at several ski resorts. He feels they have good resources, are a young and forward thinking company and they are into doing things the right way.

Wohlfeil went under contract with POWDR in January of 2021 and they did a two-phase purchase. POWDR bought a portion of Wohlfeil’s company in October of 2021 and plan to completely buy out Wohlfeil next spring. There is a steep penalty if POWDR backs out according to Wohlfeil.

Wohlfeil said he didn’t think anything in the proposed expansion was set in stone and that POWDR is open to suggestions.

Currently the USFS is in the scoping process. This is the first chance the USFS brings a proposal to the public.

“What we have received is the Master Development Plan. That is the business’s proposal for what they would like to do on the landscape. We have accepted that plan,” Mavor said. “This process that we’re going through now is the process to ‘approve’ whatever that plan might look like or how it might be changed going forward. As Christian said, it sounds like POWDR is still open to suggestion so we’re going to bring the suggestions to them.”

The plan being accepted by the USFS simply means that they have received it and it does not violate policy or conditions of the special use permit.

At several points during the meeting applause broke out after residents demanded to know how many more comments against the proposal the USFS needed to receive before they would finally listen and put a stop to it.

“The one thing that we’re up against is this is a privately owned business. We have no interactions with the sale or operation of a business under a special use permit. We may manage the land underneath it but have no say in the operations of the business,” said Mavor.

Mavor asked the audience “What is acceptable?” and “What is a compromise?”

Several residents and council members offered suggestions including not allowing any improvements, downsizing the proposed improvement and not allowing development near the shoreline.

Wohlfeil said that POWDR is planning to begin public engagement in the coming weeks while the USFS has been adding meetings and extending the comment deadline.

Other Q&A from the meeting:

Why is the next meeting being held in Seeley instead of the Swan? Dowling said they needed Internet connectivity to add the ability for people to participate virtually. They had already received nearly 5,000 comments so the issue is much larger than the Swan Valley alone. An additional meeting was added from 12-2 p.m. Oct. 4 in the Swan as a response to this concern.

Will a full environmental study be done? Dowling said an environmental review would be done and all the effects will be analyzed including consolation from the Fish and Wildlife Service. Historical aspects will also be analyzed.

Dowling said the big difference with the proposed categorical exclusion is that there are smaller comment periods and no objection period.

“It has fewer opportunities for the public engagement but we’re adding more public engagement,” said Dowling.

Mavor said they have been doing preliminary studies on the project since last November. The preliminary studies show that the project fits within the categorical exclusion and that is why it was proposed that way.

How much money does the USFS get off the special use permit? Neither Dowling nor Mavor could answer but Dowling said that none of the money that comes off the permit stays with the Flathead Forest.

What is the trailer house that is parked on the site now? Wohlfeil said he has always struggled to get employees and has no place to house them for the seasonal work. An opportunity came up to purchase the modular four-plex from the oilfields so Wohlfeil contacted the USFS and POWDR. He got approval to temporarily use it for worker housing and housing during construction but then it must be removed from the site. All the required permits and the full authorization from the USFS could not be completed in time to use it for this season so it is sitting there vacant.

In 2034 when the special use permit is reviewed will it include more land? Mavor said it has not been requested or proposed at this time. If it were requested in the future it would have to go through a similar review process to what is happing now.

There are two USFS meetings planned for Oct. 4 starting at the Swan Valley Community Hall from 12-2 p.m. and then at Seeley Lake Elementary from 5:30-7:30 p.m.

The deadline to comment is Oct. 7. For more information visit http://www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=61746

 

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