DEQ sets deadlines, possible fines for Holland Lake sewage violations
(Missoula Current) Earlier this week, the Montana Department of Environmental Quality announced it was requiring the Flathead National Forest to conduct tests and repair the Holland Lake sewage lagoon. But the letter DEQ wrote in association with the announcement spells out just how serious the sewage violations are.
On Wednesday, DEQ Deputy Director James M. Fehr wrote to Carol Hatfield, Acting Flathead National Forest supervisor, detailing the problems with the Holland Lake Lodge sewage lagoon that have come to light in the past few months and what corrections the department requires before the ponds can be used again.
Based upon what DEQ Enforcement employees found during a site visit last week and further analysis of sewage pond measurements, Fehr said the Forest Service has violated both the U.S. Clean Water Act and the Montana Public Water Supply Laws.
DEQ has given the Forest Service until the end of the month to sample the two ponds for nitrogen, a component of human waste that can cause algae blooms and other problems in lakes and streams. The Forest Service must also install monitoring wells above and below the lagoons to determine how much sewage is leaking and regularly sample the wells for indicators of sewage.
DEQ also set a Jan. 10 deadline for an engineering report on whether the ponds are the right size for the demand from the lodge and the 42-site campground, and plans for installing new treatment pond liners.
“The wastewater treatment ponds may not be used until the USFS installs the new liners in accordance with the approved plans, performs leak testing on the (ponds) and submits certified as-builts of the (ponds) to DEQ upon project completion,” Fehr wrote.
Fehr added that the Forest Service could be liable for penalties of $10,000 to $25,000 a day per violation under the Clean Water Act. Under the Montana Public Water Supply Laws, if DEQ initiates judicial action, the USFS might have to pay up to another $10,000 per day per violation.
In a Forest Service release Wednesday, Hatfield said “We are committed to maintaining and protecting water quality and, together with DEQ, will ensure appropriate actions, in compliance with the Clean Water Act.”
Hatfield’s tenure as acting supervisor has expired, and the Forest Service has yet to announce who will replace former Flathead Forest supervisor Kurt Steele, who took a different position in June.
The lagoon issue gained steam in mid-August when DEQ issued a report of a June 8 site visit that concluded that the treatment pond was probably leaking significantly into the groundwater and likely ending up in Holland Lake. Save Holland Lake, a Condon-area nonprofit, had filed a complaint in early May asking DEQ to investigate because of concerns that the lagoons were inadequate to meet POWDR’s plans to increase the size of the lodge facilities.
DEQ requested that the Forest Service conduct a leak assessment by Sept. 17 but extended the deadline until Nov. 15 at the request of the Forest Service.
In late September, Save Holland Lake released Forest Service photos and correspondence from Freedom of Information Act requests that showed big tears in the treatment pond liner that were discovered in June 2022. Subsequent correspondence showed the Forest Service hired people to tape the liner together without mentioning the problem to DEQ or the Missoula County Environmental Health division. This was a violation of the Montana Public Water Supply Laws.
One of the tasks DEQ gave to the Forest Service is to describe to DEQ by Oct. 24 what happened to those 200,000 gallons.
On Oct. 11, the Forest Service told DEQ that, while adding water to the treatment pond to do the leakage test, engineers found the pond had leaked 14 inches in five days, far more than the 6 inches per year DEQ allows.
DEQ staff inspected the ponds two days later and noted how low the treatment pond was. They calculated that about 50,000 gallons had leaked from the pond between Oct. 6 and Oct. 13, resulting in a violation of the Clean Water Act.
All of this follows on the heels of last Friday’s announcement that Holland Lake Lodge Inc. had informed the Flathead National Forest that it would no longer continue a partnership with POWDR Corp. and will be withdrawing all pending applications with the Forest Service.
At this point, it isn’t clear who, if anyone, owns the special-use permit to operate the Holland Lake Lodge. Owner Christian Wohlfiel had it originally. But when he sold the lodge to POWDR, the Forest Service was supposed to approve the change in permit ownership but never did. Wohlfiel has indicated he wants to find new owners but questions about the special-use permit remain.
Contact reporter Laura Lundquist at email@example.com.
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