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County will hold another public hearing on proposed RV park

by SCOTT SHINDLEDECKER
The Western News | September 9, 2022 7:00 AM

The developers of a proposed RV park at Happy’s Inn and those opposed to it are sharing more information that they believe is relevant to the project.

The Lincoln County Commissioners were originally set to vote on the plan on Aug. 24, but a property owner with land adjacent to the proposed subdivision didn’t receive a letter until a day after the Aug. 10 hearing. According to Montana law, people who own property adjacent to a proposed subdivision must be notified of the hearing by registered or certified mail not less than 15 days prior to the date of the hearing.

Since the letter wasn’t received in time, a public hearing will be held at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 14 in the Lincoln County Courthouse in Libby.

Since the Aug. 24 meeting, property owners on and adjacent to the Thompson Chain of Lakes formed a non-profit group, Thompson Chain of Lakes Stewardship Coalition.

According to a press release from the group, its mission is “To preserve and protect the lands and waters on the TCL.”

While the group says its long-term goals are to educate and promote wise stewardship of the Chain of Lakes, it cited the recent controversy over the commercial development as a reason for sparking property owners, family and friends into action, the release said.

The proposal from Parks Family Real Estate Company includes 69 recreational vehicle sites and 20 tent sites on 21 acres on the north side of U.S. 2, across from Happy’s Inn.

Opponents of the RV park are primarily concerned about its proximity to several spring-fed lakes on the Thompson Chain of Lakes. The group said the RV park is allowed to use up to 207,000 gallons of water per month with subsequent wastewater output. The group says this quantity will put homeowner’s wells and lake levels at risk.

“The proposed development would make it larger than Logan Park and McGregor RV Park combined,” the release stated.

According to information on their respective websites, McGregor Park has 41 RV sites and Logan Park has 37.

Kris Cole, a Libby native, and one of the owners of Parks Family Real Estate, bought Happy’s Inn a little more than three years ago. He spoke with The Western News on Tuesday to address some of the concerns of adjacent landowners and attempt to provide perspective.

“We’ve spent some time with the people who own McGregor’s RV Park and they’ve helped guide us through this process,” Cole said. “Since they opened three years ago, they’ve used a meter to measure the sewage and water usage and on average, they’re using 16.3 gallons of water per day on each site.”

Cole also said they RV park would be built in four phases with 24 lots planned in the first year.

“The plan is make enough money to build the rest of the sites,” Cole said. “To do all four phases, we’d be lucky to be done in 10 to 12 years.”

The Thompson Chain of Lakes Stewardship Coalition also said it was concerned that “the developer has refused to consider reducing the size of the development as it would not be cost effective.”

The group’s spokesperson, Karen Wickersham, explained, “We are not opposed to responsible growth that is within the historic use, culture, and pose minimal impacts to the water and the land. We are opposed, however, to an irresponsible land grab that only seeks to build the biggest development possible for profit at the expense of the environment and other landowners rights.”

But Cole also said with the available land the company could’ve built many more lots.

“We could’ve done a lot more, we could’ve stacked 300 sites in there, but we walked the site to see where trees could be left. We didn't want it be like that,” he said. “If another developer was doing it, the potential exists for a lot more sites and it being really crowded.”

The Chain of Lakes Coalition also asserts that the most vulnerable spring-fed lakes, including Horseshoe, Lavon and Crystal, are closest to the RV development and have no outlet or inlet waterway and therefore, are prone to degradation from human activity.

According to the development plan, water for the park would be provided through two wells and four individual sewer systems, one built with each of the four phases.

Cole also said he believed the park would help with congestion at the state park.

“We get people coming in looking for a site to camp and we hear a lot about rowdy campers,” Cole said.

Safety issues have been raised frequently, too.

In a June 17, 2021, letter from Fisher River Valley Fire and Rescue to APEC Engineering that was part of the application, Chief Kirk Kraft said his department would provide fire protection for the park but was concerned about increased traffic, including ATVs, UTVs and motorcycles, at the location.

Kraft wrote that he’d like to see the county Commissioners and Planning Department ask the state Department of Transportation to reduce the speed limit from 70 mph to 45 in the Happy’s Inn community.

At a recent meeting, Commissioner Jerry Bennett said the state was going to do a traffic study in consideration of possibly lowering the limit.

If the commissioners do approve the subdivision, the state Department of Natural Resources and Conservation and Department of Environmental Quality would have to give their respective blessings before any work could begin.

For more information on the coalition, visit www.ThompsonChainofLakesSewardshipCoalition.com.