County tells USFS to apply retroactively for Holland Lake sewage permit
(Missoula Current) After learning that the Flathead National Forest repaired a sewage lagoon at Holland Lake last summer without admitting the problem, the Missoula County Public Health Department is requiring that the Forest Service go back and do it right.
Kyle Crapster, Missoula County Environmental Health Specialist, sent a letter this week to Patrick Siers, Forest Service civil engineer, detailing how the county had learned that the sewage lagoon that serves the Holland Lake Lodge and nearby Forest Service campground could be leaking into the groundwater and that the Forest Service had patched a large tear in the lagoon lining last summer.
Because Missoula County is responsible for ensuring that environmental and human health is not negatively affected by wastewater systems, Crapster was concerned when he received a letter on Aug. 21 from the Montana Department of Environmental Quality. In the letter, Margarite Juarez Thomas, DEQ Environmental Enforcement Specialist, summarized DEQ’s recent assessment of the lagoons, which concluded the holding pond was likely leaking.
In that letter, DEQ required the Forest Service to conduct a water balance test by Sept. 17 to determine whether the pond was leaking. The Forest Service missed the deadline and asked for a two-month extension, which DEQ granted. But that pushed the deadline beyond the time that a water balance test could accurately be made.
Then the Missoula Public Health Department learned on Sept. 29 that a large tear in the holding pond liner had been discovered in May 2022. The Missoula Current reported on Sept. 26 that the nonprofit Save Holland Lake had acquired photographs through a Freedom of Information Act request showing a 15-foot-long tear in the pond liner. It was repaired in July 2022.
The problem is that the wastewater permit holder – the Flathead National Forest in this case – is supposed to report such a violation to DEQ. It’s also supposed to apply to the county for a permit to repair the wastewater system.
In his letter, Crapster said Missoula County has no record that the Forest Service applied for a permit. As a result, the Forest Service must apply retroactively for a permit.
But not before the Forest Service works with DEQ to ensure the repairs are adequate and can accommodate the demands that are put on the wastewater system. Missoula County is also requiring the Forest Service to write a plan to ensure the system is operating correctly.
“If there are additional tears or (it’s) found not to be watertight, it may be time to replace the liner,” Crapster said in the letter.
When asked if the Forest Service would be prohibited from using the lagoons until they complied, Jeanna Miller, Missoula County Environmental Health Manager, said the department hasn’t placed any requirements or restrictions on the use of the campground or lodge.
The Current asked Region 1 public affairs officer Dan Hottle whether the Forest Service had reported the violation to DEQ last summer and if it planned on inspecting the liner soon.
“The USDA Forest Service continues to work with Montana DEQ on the regulatory procedures regarding the operation of the Holland Lake Lodge wastewater treatment system. We remain committed to protecting the water quality of the area and will work with our partners to perform the necessary testing as soon as possible,” Hottle said in an email.
Roberts doubts whether the Forest Service will do anything until after the new year, because it has yet to hire a new Flathead National Forest supervisor after Kurt Steele left the job. Carol Hatfield is the acting supervisor only until mid-October, and then the Forest Service will have to bring in someone new. So leadership on the Flathead Forest is a bit chaotic.
“I think DEQ didn’t know this was going on. I think it’s time for DEQ to set down a fairly hard line on the Forest Service and not play patsy to them,” Roberts said.
Contact reporter Laura Lundquist at firstname.lastname@example.org.
BIG TIMBER WATERSLIDE
Gallery Credit: BRANDY MACKENZIE PHOTOGRAPHY