Forest Service: Holland Lake Lodge expansion plan rejected for now, but new plan possible
| December 7, 2022 12:00 AM
The U.S. Forest Service has rejected an expansion proposal from Holland Lake Lodge due in part to inaccurate and inconsistent information in the plan, according to the Flathead National Forest.
However, the Flathead National Forest will consider any updated proposal.
On Nov. 21, Flathead National Forest Supervisor Kurt Steele issued a letter to the lodge “ceasing evaluation” of the expansion proposal, Deputy Forest Supervisor Tami MacKenzie said Wednesday.
“This is basically a reset of the entire process,” MacKenzie said.
Earlier this year, Holland Lake Lodge and POWDR of Utah submitted a joint proposal to expand operations at the Swan Valley lodge. POWDR is an “adventure life” company that operates ski resorts in the U.S.
MacKenzie said Holland Lake Lodge is free to resubmit an updated plan at any time.
In a statement posted on www.hollandlakefuture.com, POWDR and the lodge said they plan to continue working on the expansion and will resubmit a proposal that is “very much in line” with their original plan.
“We recently received a request from the U.S. Forest Service to provide more detail on our Master Development Plan,” said the statement. “We very much look forward to doing that and continuing to work with the USFS, as well as the public, during the process.”
POWDR provided a copy of the letter (see below) from the Forest Service, which outlined next steps for considering an updated proposal.
In a phone call, MacKenzie said Steele stopped reviewing the master development plan in part because anomalies had surfaced, including inaccurate acreage.
The lodge currently operates on public land under a special-use permit that covers 10.53 acres.
The expansion proposal identified 15 acres but indicated that acreage was already permitted, which is not the case.
MacKenzie also confirmed Wednesday the Forest Service will require an environmental assessment should the lodge resubmit an expansion proposal. (She noted a more extensive review is possible depending on the submission.)
On the website about its future, POWDR and the lodge noted they will support the environmental assessment and expect the plan will not have a negative effect on natural resources.
“While we believe there will not be adverse impact to the environment, the mechanism for how to evaluate the impacts against NEPA guidelines has always been less important to us than the conclusion,” the statement said of the National Environmental Policy Act. “We are confident that any analysis, driven by data, science, and the experts at the Flathead Forest, will support our Master Development Plan going forward.”
The website also said the following: “The environment and ecosystems where we work and operate is our top priority and we have no desire to conduct business in a way that undermines that.”
When released to the public this fall, the expansion proposal elicited significant public outcry, including from elected officials, in part because of the location of the lodge in the Swan Valley and potential impacts to wildlife and water quality. A group called “Save Holland Lake” formed to fight the expansion.
The Forest Service’s preliminary decision, now reversed, to exempt the expansion from a thorough environmental review also drew objections.
Last week, a couple of lawyers alleged in a memo and review of public records that the special use permit is void because public documents such a liquor license transfer place control of the lodge in the hands of POWDR.
The special use permit issued to Holland Lake Lodge indicates a change in control voids the permit.
Wednesday, MacKenzie said a legal team is investigating the allegation of a change in control. She did not know the timeline for a decision.
POWDR has not commented on whether it is already in control of the lodge. Lodge owner Christian Wohlfeil, who said earlier he sold minority shares to POWDR, has directed most questions about the project to a POWDR spokesperson.
Wednesday, Save Holland Lake’s Bill Lombardi said the Forest Service’s decision is a step in the right direction.
“The public’s voice matters,” Lombardi said. “It counts despite what others might say. The Forest Service works for the public, and that’s public land. So they made a good decision here and are listening to the public.”
He also said it’s appropriate for the Forest Service to investigate whether a change in control of the lodge has voided the permit. He said the land belongs to all Montanans and all Americans.
“This is not public land just to be monetized and commodified by private interests that want to make money,” Lombardi said.
On the www.hollandlakefuture.com, POWDR and the lodge reiterates their goals for the resort.
“Our intention from the beginning of this process was to upgrade the failing infrastructure of Holland Lake Lodge in a sustainable way that would preserve the integrity of the lodge and environment without sacrificing affordability for residents and others seeking to marvel at the grandeur of our natural spaces,” the statement said. “Our company was founded on the premise of providing broad access to the outdoors in a safe, sustainable manner that would create generations of nature lovers who, in turn, would join us in becoming advocates of ecological stewardship.”
POWDR provided the letter to the Daily Montanan on Wednesday, although it had not been immediately available from the Forest Service. The agency directed a request to its FOIA coordinator.
In a statement, Save Holland Lake earlier said the letter should be made available so people can understand the Forest Service’s rationale.
“It is very important for everyone, including the public, to understand the reasons why the Flathead National Forest is ‘ceasing evaluation,'” the statement said. “We remain convinced that the Forest Service has a legal duty to deny the proposed expansion because it is not in the public interest.”
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include the Forest Service letter, which POWDR provided to the Daily Montanan.