Monday, June 05, 2023

Board sets deadline for decision on McDonald Creek home

| March 30, 2023 12:00 AM

The Flathead Conservation Board gave a San Diego couple until April 3 to either apply for a permit to remove a house built along the banks of McDonald Creek in Glacier National Park or seek a declaratory judgment in the matter.

The board earlier this month found the home, owned by John and Stacy Ambler, in violation of the Montana Natural Streambed and Land Preservation Act, also known as the 310 law.

On Feb. 27, representatives of the conservation board, along with the owners and a Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks biologist examined the home, which is about 20 feet from the creek.

They determined the stream bank been excavated in violation of the law.

In addition to ordering the removal of the home, the board also required the Amblers to obtain a 310 permit — the permit that’s necessary to do any sort of work near a stream in Montana — to tear the home down.

The Amblers never applied, or received, a free 310 permit when they began construction.

The board’s decision Monday night came on a 3-2 vote. Dissenters said the board should give the Amblers more time to make their consideration.

But the majority of board members wanted the matter moved along one way or another.

If the Amblers apply for a 310 permit, they would concede tearing the home down. That doesn’t seem likely, as the Hungry Horse News received complaints from members of the public that crews continued to work on the home just a few days ago.

The Ambler’s attorney, Trent Baker, wanted the ability for an independent engineer to examine the creek and the home to determine where the high water was and other streamflow data.

“One of the issues is no one has produced the data,” Baker argued.

That process would delay the matter about 60 days. The board previously ordered the home removed by Nov. 1.

Because the property is surrounded by federal land, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has not mapped the floodplain of the creek, FEMA officials have previously told the Hungry Horse News.

The data was immaterial for some board members — the Amblers had already put in a retaining wall into the creek bank and built a house behind it.

The home is located on a slight bend in McDonald Creek in Apgar. It is one of the few private parcels left in Glacier National Park. Private land in the park is governed by Flathead County, not the U.S. Park Service.

The parcel is not zoned. Private property in Glacier National Park pre-dates the creation of the park in 1910. Over the years the park has acquired many of the parcels, called inholdings, but some still remain, particularly near Lake McDonald.

The Ambler’s home is in Apgar, a subdivision of sorts that pre-dates Glacier National Park. It is home to mostly private and rental cabins, a few shops and the Village Inn Motel, which is owned by the park.

The park's jurisdiction in the Ambler case begins at the high water mark, Superintendent David Roemer previously has told the Hungry Horse News.

The Amblers were able to hook up to Park Service sewer and water, which allowed them, in part, to develop the lot in the first place.

The lot, according to public tax records, is only 2,309 square feet.

Under the law, a declaratory ruling is subject to judicial review, so the matter will, in all likelihood, end up in district court.

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