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Dozens attend hearing on proposed RV park at Happy's Inn

by SCOTT SHINDLEDECKER
The Western News | September 16, 2022 7:00 AM

Lincoln County residents on either side of a proposed RV Park at Happy’s Inn will have to wait a few more days before a decision is made by the county commissioners.

Folks packed the commissioners meeting room and dozens more stood in the hallway well before the 1:30 p.m. meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 14.

Commissioner Jerry Bennett said a decision would be made on Wednesday, Sept. 21 at the commissioners meeting in Eureka.

The 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 one 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.

Wednesday’s meeting included more supporters of the RV park than had attended in previous meetings. The park would be located just north of U.S. 2 across from Happy’s Inn. The proposal from Parks Family Real Estate Company includes 69 recreational vehicle sites and 20 tent sites.

Mike Munro, a property owner in the area and member of Fisher River Valley Fire/Rescue, said he prefers the RV park over dozens of homes that could be built on the 21 acres where the park would be located.

“We have much better standards today than 40 years ago,” Munro said. “I also believe the fire department is equipped to handle any emergencies.”

Marc Liechti, the owner and principal of APEC Engineering in Somers which is assisting Parks Family Real Estate, said considerably more water could be used if the property is subdivided.

“We don’t have the complete water and sewer analysis and we’re nowhere near the end of this process,” Liechti said. “But we could see a 33% to 50% increase in water and sewer use if that property is subdivided for residences.”

Glacier Bank’s George Mercer is also in favor of the RV park.

“Let the engineers and the DEQ do their job,” Mercer said. “The water that will be used at Happy’s is a fraction of the 650,000 gallons that is used daily at Cabinet View Golf Course.”

Kris Cole of Parks Family Real Estate said the park will not be used during the winter.

“Our plan doesn’t include plowing snow and our hydrants would freeze,” Cole said.

Lincoln County Planning Board vice-chair Kenny Rayome took exception to some comments made that planners didn't follow the county's current growth policy, which was adopted in December 2019.

"The growth policy is not a regulatory document, we did follow it and we are not violating the growth policy," Rayome said.

Rayome cited Montana law while sharing information about the planning board's process.

In Montana Code Annotated, Title 76, Chapter 1, Part 6, Use Of Adopted Growth Policy, it states, in part, that "a growth policy is not a regulatory document and does not confer any authority to regulate that is not otherwise specifically authorized by law or regulations adopted pursuant to the law."

Rayome read the section that includes, "A governing body may not withhold, deny, or impose conditions on any land use approval or other authority to act based solely on compliance with a growth policy adopted pursuant to this chapter."

"We want people to come here, use it wisely and not abuse it and without somewhere for people to camp, abuse will happen," Rayome said.

The county Planning Board approved the subdivision application earlier this summer.

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

Opponents of the RV park maintained their concerns about safety, water usage and pollution as well as concerns over impacts on wildlife.

Missoula resident James Watkins said he’s had a place on Crystal Lake since 1978.

“The Happy’s Inn people are wonderful,” Watkins said. “You’ve revitalized it to the way it was in the 1970s, which is great. But the waterfowl in the area are abundant because we have taken care of it.

“But if this can’t be done without irreparable harm to wildlife habitat, it shouldn’t be done until it can be done safely.”

Lincoln County resident Tony Petrusha acknowledged that change is hard.

"I've been part of it and I've spent thousands of dollars on a new dock and a water pump because of the water, but I don't see the RV park ending life as I know it," Petrusha said.