City OKs dredging for channel

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Whitefish City Council gave its approval last week for a dredging project on the north end of Whitefish Lake to remove silt from a man-made canal.

Gordon Tait, a homeowner on Lazy Bay, requested a major lakeshore variance to dredge about 1.31 acres of the Lazy Bay Channel. According to the application, the project seeks to remove 6,000 cubic yards of sediment from the floor of the channel that is 700 feet long and 100 feet wide. The removed material is proposed to be deposited in a retention pond constructed on Lazy Bay Island.

Tait said his family won’t let their dog go out in the water because they worry he couldn’t get out, and homeowners observed a buck get stuck in the silt and drown.

“Boats get stuck in the silt in the channel,” Tait told Council. “It has turned into quicksand — it’s become a safety concern.”

Nathan Lucke, with Territorial Landworks assisting the property owners on the project, noted that the lakeshore regulations do allow for dredging and one of the goals of the regulations is to protect the value of property along the lake and maintain lake access.

“What we’re trying to do is not take an area that was always shallow, but take an area that while it was man-made and return it to its depth that it has been for the last 40 or so years,” he said.

The channel was constructed in the early 1970s and the entrance area has been cleared of silt at least two times previously in 1991 and again in 2001.

City Planner Bailey Minnich said both of those instances of dredging were approved by Flathead County Commissioners prior to the creation of the Whitefish Lake and Lakeshore Regulations.

“The city doesn’t see a lot of lakeshore major variance permits,” she said.

Under lakeshore regulations, dredging is considered to have the potential for adverse impacts on the lake or shore and therefore requires all dredging permits to be reviewed as a major variance.

Council expressed concerns about homeowners returning to perform the same work again, but also other property owners who might want to do a similar project.

“This is a one-time permit for this project,” Councilor Richard Hildner said. “This should not be considered as a standard for anyone that wants dredging for better boat access.”

Tait said homeowners are looking into other options that would prevent the channel from filling with silt, so that dredging might not be necessary in the future.

The conditions of the variance includes items aimed at reducing impacts to the lake, including the use of turbidity curtains and monitoring turbidity levels and that equipment expected to be in contact with the lake be cleaned and inspected for aquatic invasive species.

The Lakeshore Protection Committee did vote to deny the permit noting that the project may diminish water quality.

The only portion of the project that falls within city jurisdiction is everything from the low water mark down into the lake, noted Minnich. The committee’s concern was that placing the silt material removed from the lake on the island could cause it to return to the lake, Minnich explained, but that portion of the project is beyond the city’s jurisdiction.

The homeowners have also applied for necessary permits pertaining to the project with Flathead County. In addition, the city notes that dredging may also require permits from the state Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, state Department of Environmental Quality and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

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