DNRC Proposes East Smith Road Easement Exchange

The DNRC is proposing construction of 1.7 miles of new road through our community’s proposed Smith Lake conservation and recreation project. The road would allow private access for three neighboring landowners – two of which already have legal access to their property. The DNRC has invited public comment on their ‘Initial Proposal‘ however, the IP provides so few details that there is not sufficient information to appropriately review and consider.

 

We are left with so many questions: What will the impacts of the road and road construction be? Will the road be open to the public for recreation? How will it impact plans for the Whitefish Trail in the area? What will the State gain from the exchange and will it be enough to offset the impacts of the road? And since it provides a second access to 160+-acres, could the road be used as a thoroughfare for subdivision and future development? Lastly and most importantly, will there be another opportunity for public comment once more details are developed?

 

Given all these unanswered questions, we have serious concerns with how the state can consider this proposal to be compatible with the conservation and recreation project we’re partnering with the City to pursue. The City’s proposal was submitted in 2020 to permanently protect this same area with a Public Recreation Use Easement.

Here’s our draft comments:

 

  • The proposal does not provide sufficient details to allow for proper review and comment. Additional information is requested as the project is developed to allow for a more thorough review and additional public input.
  • The proposal does not clearly identify what the State will gain, as is required in their administrative rules for evaluating easement exchanges.
  • A Road Users Agreement has been drafted but has not been shared publicly. The details of this agreement should be included in the initial proposal.
  • The City of Whitefish and Whitefish Legacy Partners have an active proposal with the State to secure a Public Recreation Use Easement (PRUE) at Smith Lake. This road proposal may significantly diminish the community’s PRUE project, including the high-quality recreation network, and may have other potentially negative cumulative effects including scenic, wildlife, wildfire, clean water, and the threat of subdivision.
  • The Smith Lake area is in the wildland urban interface and is a high fire risk area. The State’s road proposal should not foster subdivision in a high risk area.

Stay tuned for more updates!