Photograph Source: Forest Service Northern Region – Public Domain
Holland Lake in the pristine Seeley-Swan Valley in western Montana provides critical habitat for threatened bull trout and surrounding areas are home to lynx, grizzly bears, elk, and wolverines. Due to a public uprising, last fall the Flathead National Forest rejected a proposal by Utah-based ski corporation, POWDR, known for high-end ski resorts and lodging, to significantly and opulently expand Holland Lake Lodge in November.
But Forest Service documents show that the Forest Service and POWDR are proceeding with expansion plans, with no public involvement, as if the permit denial never happened. POWDR recently submitted an application for a special use permit for Holland Lake Lodge that would essentially transfer permit authority from the current owner to POWDR.
In response, Kristine Akland, an attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, Alliance for the Wild Rockies, and Save Holland Lake sent a demand letter on March 24th requesting the Forest Service comply with mandatory regulations when determining whether to issue a new special use permit for Holland Lake Lodge.
In an email disclosing the Agency’s receipt of POWDR’s permit application, Flathead National Forest Supervisor Kurt Steele stated “as long as POWDR is deemed financially and technically capable and is planning to meet the intent of the special use permit, a new permit is issued.” This is not correct.
As Akland’s letter explains, the Forest Service is required to consider, among many other things, whether proposed special use permit is in the public interest before it authorizes a new permit. If the Forest Service finds it is not in the public interest, the Forest Service may reject the application without further analysis.
Public comments last fall showed that POWDR’s expansion is not in the public interest. Out of the more than 6,500 comments submitted, only 74 supported the proposed expansion. Of these 74 supporters, a significant portion were either from out of state or from local residents who would directly profit from the expansion.
Therefore, the Forest Service has a duty to reject POWDR’s application for special use authorization applications because POWDR’s proposed use is not in the public interest.
But the Forest Service has seemingly already decided to allow POWDR to move forward with its expansion. For example, last year prior to the release of Forest Service’s scoping letter for expanding Holland Lake Lodge, a four-unit modular home for employees and/or construction crews was moved on site for the proposed Holland Lake Lodge expansion in violation of the existing special use permit, which does not authorize the presence of modular homes on the permit area.
Additionally, on August 22, 2022, the Forest Service, without public notice and comment, authorized POWDR to begin drilling two new wells for so-called “pump testing.” Documents show that these two wells will not be limited to “testing” but are being drilled for Holland Lake Lodge’s expansion. In fact, the Forest Service’s own hydrologist stated that the use of the term “test well” was perhaps disingenuous. As they succinctly stated in an email, it “seems like a connected action to expansion of the lodge and should require some level of NEPA.”
Akland concluded in the letter that if the Forest Service fails to comply with the law the conservation groups will be left with no choice but to pursue litigation in federal court.
Unfortunately, the more you look, the worse the Holland Lake Lodge Syndrome appears.
We would appreciate it if you would please consider helping us make the Forest Service follow the law.
Mike Garrity is the Executive Director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies