Protected or not?
Wetland destruction remains unresolved
There is still no resolution to the damage done to the wetland off of Andesite Rd on lots 3 and 4 of the Northfork Creek Subdivision in mid-July. A mini excavator was stuck in the wetland after creating wide four foot deep trenches. Multiple organizations were notified: Big Sky Owners Association (BSOA), Big Sky County Water and Sewer District, Gallatin River Task Force,Gallatin Conservation District as well as the State of Montana Department of Environmental Quality (MT DEQ), which referred the issue to the United States Army Corps of Engineers (US ACE) in August.
“Complainant alleges [the responsible party] is using heavy equipment to knock down willows and drain a wetland located on North Fork Subdivision Lots #3 and #4. Both lots are situated between Andesite Road and Moosewood Road, and excavation activities are occurring at the NW end Lot #3,” a mid-July complaint form drafted by MT DEQ stated.
Paul Driscoll, with the MT DEQ communications department said DEQ received a total of three complaints regarding the wetland.
The owner of the property told BSOA executive director Suzan Scott he was attempting to unplug a culvert. Lone Peak Lookout’s attempts to interview the property owner were unsuccessful. Locally, the property falls under BSOA jurisdiction and no approval for property changes was sought by the owner.
“This is new territory for us as far as I’ve experienced. I’ve been here for eight years. I’ve never experienced a membership dredging a wetland without any kind of approval. Ultimately, [the outcome] is up to the BSAC (Big Sky Architecture Committee) to decide,” she said.
DEQ environmental enforcement specialist Kim Speckman asked US ACE senior project manager Tim McNew in an Aug. 19 email if “a permit had been applied for and/or issued for such a project?” To which he replied that he did not have any permits on file for the property owner and the closest permit on file “is over .10 mile away.”
With no permit on file, Speckman referred the issue to Jade Clabaugh with the U.S. ACE on Aug. 28, stating in a complaint/spill referral, “The DEQ Enforcement Program (ENF) received a complaint or spill report that we believe is under the jurisdiction of your agency/program. The attached report is referred to you for appropriate action.”
The Lone Peak Lookout filed a Freedom of Information Act Request (FOIA) on Sept. 6 and received a formal response from US ACE senior paralegal specialist Stacey Andreason on Oct. 21, stating, “I have been advised by our Montana State Regulatory Office that a search of their hard copy and electronic files did not retrieve any agency records for the coordinates or landowner identified in your request.”
When questioned about an alleged site visit, she replied that one had occurred.
“I confirmed with the regulatory office located in Helena, MT, that although they conducted a site visit last week, there is no new documentation responsive to your request. I was also advised that due to winter weather conditions in the region, no actions will be taken until next spring,” she replied.
Further investigation revealed several documents had been shared between the MT DEQ and US ACE and those redacted documents were subsequently shared by MT DEQ with the Lone Peak Lookout.
Bill and Jane Pasich live across the street from the wetland. They have visited that area since 1985, owned the property since 1989 and had their home there since 1992. They and their family have a long history of admiring the wildlife the wetland brings to their area. Elk visit and bugle during the rut and often calve in the area.
“Since 1985 – moose, deer, elk – plus you have the sandhill cranes that come up there to nest. People drive from all over to see moose up there. It’s just a really wonderful area that I don’t think should be disturbed,” he said.
Bill Pasich believes in individual property rights, however, he is saddened to see something so beautiful and a place that has been admired by locals and visitors alike with deep trenches running through it.
"This property is special," he explained. "If there is any possible way to not disturb that, it would be to everybody’s benefit."
The heat is still on, so to speak, just as temperatures cool. Any hope that the issue might die down with a layer of snow may prove moot as cross-country skiers who know the Andesite Loop and Lone Mountain Ranch trails will see a deviation from the usual path.
“The start of the trail headed toward ‘tree farm’ from intersection 33 will have to be moved about 20 ft. closer to Andesite Rd., and the intersection itself will have to be narrowed slightly due to the culvert and ditch,” Lone Mountain Ranch activities manager Shea Shaughnessy explained. “But it shouldn’t create an issue for skiers or grooming.”
Although the property is mapped on the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife Service wetland map: https://www.fws.gov/wetlands/data/mapper.html, it still may not fit all three qualifying criteria of hydrology, soil and vegetation to be a protected wetland. That determination will be made from the results of the site visit.