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Access concerns voiced over Rainbow Lake subdivision

| March 29, 2005 11:00 PM

By STEVE KADEL Western News Reporter

A proposed 192-acre residential development near Upper Thompson Lake sailed through a Lincoln County public hearing last week with little objection to the project.

The main concern expressed by citizens was whether public access to Rainbow Lake would continue. No easement leading to the popular fishing spot is included in current project plans.

Six people attended the hearing March 23 at Happy's Inn to learn more about the proposed subdivision of eight lots ranging from 20 to 33 acres.

"I'm glad to see these larger tracts," said a man who lives along adjacent Crystal Lake.

LBO Properties of Kalispell filed the preliminary subdivision plat application to develop the single home lots. Two private roads would provide access from U.S. Highway 2.

The land is a remaining tract of a previously filed subdivision called Thompson Rainbow Estates, which has smaller lots than the proposed subdivision would have.

Lincoln County reviewed the proposal for possible effects on agriculture, agricultural water user facilities, local services, the natural environment, wildlife and wildlife habitat, and public health and safety.

In a report, Lincoln County Department of Environmental Planning director Ken Peterson noted that some detrimental effects to wildlife and wildlife habitat result whenever human activity begins in previously undeveloped areas.

However, the report said Rainbow Acres wouldn't have a significant impact on wildlife, particularly since almost 80 percent of Lincoln County land is under government management as wildlife habitat.

Peterson concluded the subdivision wouldn't have sufficient negative effects on any of the six criteria for the county to recommend against development.

Peterson said sewage system development is an issue that will be addressed by the state Department of Environmental Quality rather than by the county.

The question of public access to Rainbow Lake occupied much of the hour-long hearing. In a letter responding to questions by the developer's surveyors, Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks biologist Mike Hensler said the agency would no longer stock cutthroat trout in Rainbow Lake if public access were denied.

The lake is used for ice-fishing as well as by summer anglers. John Clark, who lives nearby, said he has been fishing Rainbow Lake since he was 10 years old.

"I'd hate to see that go," he said.

Those at the hearing agreed a walking trail would suffice. Lincoln County Commissioner Rita Windom suggested the issue be discussed with officials of LBO Properties.

"We can ask the developer to make some concessions," she said, "but we can't force him to."

The Lincoln County Board of Commissioners has 60 days to make its recommendation regarding the subdivision. If endorsed by that group, the project must get final approval from the state.