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Concerning Lakeshore Protection Regulations

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On Nov. 10, the Lake County Board of Commissioners held a public hearing to consider adopting the newly revised Lakeshore Protection Regulations (LPRs). As citizens commented, it became clear that there appeared to be a lack of understanding of the LPRs, its purpose, how it came about and what it meant for lakeshore landowners and citizens of Lake County.

During the 1970s, northwest Montana was being discovered. Land development on our lakes was taking off and many became concerned that everyone didn’t understand the impacts some of the development could have. The 1975 Montana State legislature passed a law tasking county government with establishing regulations for development within 20 feet of the shoreline and out into lakes larger than 160 acres. The Lake County LPRs cover Flathead Lake, Swan Lake and Lake Mary Ronan. On the Flathead Reservation, the CSKT has jurisdiction out into the lake, so the Lake County LPRs only cover development on the shore within 20 feet of Flathead Lake. CSKT has regulations and require a permit for docks and other development out into the portion of Flathead Lake on the reservation.

The earliest copy I have of Lake County LPRs is dated 1991, but I believe Lake County LPRs existed years before that. Those LPRs and the current ones, dated 2001, require permits be obtained and certain requirements be met for any dirt work, docks, boat houses, breakwaters, boat lifts, landscaping and more. Nearly any project, repair or maintenance in the lakeshore zone has required a permit and certain requirements be met for more than 30 years. Current LPRs allow the Planning Department staff and Planning Board members to come on to your land without notifying you if you have applied for a permit.

Our lakes in northwest Montana are a big part of our quality of life and tremendous drivers of our economy. For lakeshore landowners they are the number one attribute that establishes property value. If our lakes become damaged and degraded, the negative impacts to our economy and property values will be huge, not to mention, the decline we and future generations would see in our quality of life.

As the years go on, we learn more and more about impacts of development, the science of water quality and how our riparian environments operate. To expect every lakeshore landowner and contractor to study and keep abreast of this new information that protects the lake, the neighbors and their own properties is not realistic.

Lake County Planning Department staff and Planning Board volunteers have spent the past couple years researching and studying. They have looked at the recent history of LPR applications, permits and variances requested. They have held more than a dozen public work sessions considering comments from landowners and contractors. The result is a draft of revised LPRs to reflect new knowledge of lakeshore environments and ways to improve the permitting process. The new LPRs will eliminate the requirement of obtaining a permit for some landscaping and maintenance work. Some regulations have been modified to reduce the number of variances that would be required. The new regulations require Planning Department staff to make a reasonable attempt to contact you before visiting your property, protecting your property rights.

Although the proposed new LPRs are about 40 pages, they cover many different types of development and should be easier to read and understand. There are about 15 pages of boilerplate that had to be included, another six pages of definitions and just a page or two that cover each different type of project. If you are building a dock, there are just three pages of rules. Just one page covers boat lifts, and another single page covers boat houses. Rules for controlling shoreline erosion are covered on just three pages.

The draft of the proposed new LPRs is available on the Lake County website. If you have trouble accessing it, call the Planning Department. Please look them over and compare them to the existing regulations. If you agree the new ones are an improvement, please let the Lake County Commissioners know. The old existing LPRs will continue to be enforced until the new ones are adopted.

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