North Shore Ranch project back on agenda

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North Shore Ranch, a proposed 290-lot, 364-acre subdivision near Somers, has been revised and will come before the Flathead County Planning Board on March 12.

Attached to the proposal is a hydrology report, something developers Sean Averill and Keith Simon say sets a model of responsible development.

"We've done something that no one else has ever done in a subdivision," Simon said. "We've modeled hydrology."

A November 2007 meeting with the Planning Board was postponed in part because of questions about how development would impact the ground water along the north shore of Flathead Lake.

"It was put off because there wasn't a real answer to the question of ground water," Simon said, adding that the report "proves that we know what's going on with the water in this area. This is not going to impact Flathead Lake. We love the lake and wanted to make sure."

The study, prepared by RLK Hydro Inc. of Kalispell, shows that the shallow water table under the project site is poorly connected to the Flathead River or Flathead Lake. This conclusion matches a study in 1986 by Jack Stanford and Roger Noble, well-respected scientists.

"It's confirmatory because you have these different lines of evidence that come to the same conclusion," said Randy Overton with RLK Hydro. "We can look back to the mid-'80s and see they were arriving at the same conclusions."

Because the project sits on soil made up mainly of sand and silt, the rate at which the ground water flows is relatively slow compared to the rest of the valley. Ground water in Evergreen, for example, flows three to five times faster than groundwater along the north shore.

One of the more significant findings in the report is that ground water actually drifts away from the lake in some cases.

"That surprises people quite a bit," Overton said. "You have this ground-water system that doesn't go anywhere."

Kerr Dam plays a large role as well. Prior to the dam, water would have moved more freely toward the lake, but because of the regulated water levels, the system is kept at bay.

The subdivision property is separated from the lake's shore by a Waterfowl Production Area.

In an effort to create a greater buffer, Averill said the project includes about 73 acres between the subdivision and the waterfowl area that will be put into a conservation easement for free, and future homeowners in North Shore Ranch will pay a fee for an ongoing maintenance fund.

Efforts to put the land into an easement with the Flathead Land Trust have been rebuffed, Averill said.

"It's confusing to us," Averill said. "No one is going to give them all their property, which is what they want."

Averill said he and other landowners can't figure out why the land trust wouldn't jump at the chance to secure the easement that will protect sensitive wetlands at no charge. The land value of the 73-acre easement is around $1.7 million.

The land trust has been involved in efforts to find a way to curb development on farmlands between Montana 82 and the lake, but Ken Siderius, president of the Flathead Land Trust, said the refusals have been based on a lack of information.

"We've never walked the soil or looked at it," Siderius said. "We have to do a lot of things before we can approve an easement. We have to hold off until we see exactly what they want to do. We'd be remiss if we didn't see what the whole project is going to be like."

The land trust board met with the developers a couple of weeks ago, and a detailed plan of the subdivision was provided.

Siderius also contends that the easement would only benefit the people living in the subdivision and wouldn't offer much to anyone else.

Averill pointed out that the easement borders the waterfowl area, which is completely open to the public. Averill also said the land still will be placed in a conservation easement with or without the Flathead Land Trust's involvement.

The subdivision itself calls for 290 lots, with each lot bordering some type of open space.

Half of the 364 acres in the project will be open space. North Shore Ranch is designed to create a rural atmosphere, with more than 14 miles of horse and walking paths. The developers also have pledged about $300,000 to nearby schools.

"We're using green building techniques, and there won't be any street lights or sidewalks," Simon said. "We want this to be a rural community that celebrates Montana traditions and values."

Full build-out for the development is planned to take about 15 years.

Reporter Michael Richeson may be reached at 758-4459 or by e-mail at mricheson@dailyinterlake.com

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