Submarine salvage

A large-scale log salvage operation on Flathead Lake could have major implications for local fish populations and lakeside recreation, yet the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC) has found floating the proposal in the community relatively easy.

DNRC on Wednesday closed a month-long public comment period for the operation and, according to the department's environmental assessment, the contractor on the job could pull as many as 5,600 submerged logs from the lakebed over the next 10 years. Considering the scope of the project, there's been surprisingly little feedback from the Flathead community.

DNRC Kalispell Unit Manager Greg Poncin says only 10 people showed up to an open house on the salvage operation on July 8, and he's received as many comments in favor of the project as opposed.

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"By and large, it's just been about the potential congestion at these boat launches, specifically Somers," Poncin says of the few concerns voiced, "and the perception that a public recreational facility should not be authorized for commercial use on principle."

The project stems from an October 2008 settlement agreement between North Shore Development LLC and the DNRC establishing legal ownership over the submerged logs. North Shore claimed it inherited all timber stamped with a circled "N" from the Somers Lumber Company, and the state decided to allow the salvage operation provided all unstamped logs be purchased from the state.

"The state's interest in this is the lakebed is presumed to be trust land, and we are required to manage for the beneficiaries—in this case...common schools," Poncin says. "So we're representing their interests in this, and we agreed that [North Shore] would essentially purchase a land-use license for $20,000 a year."

The issue isn't so clear-cut for some. North Flathead Yacht Club board member Bill Corwin says North Shore approached the club years ago offering to pay for use of the club's boat launch facilities. The club declined, and continues to have concerns about disturbed sediment and crowding at boat ramps.

"We feel sorry for the people that depend on the use of that boat ramp," Corwin says of the public ramp across from the club's private facility on Somers Bay. "That boat ramp is overused as it is for recreational boating, let alone for a commercial logging operation."

Corwin doubts the public is aware the project could start as soon as September. The lack of comments on Poncin's desk would seem to support the claim.

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