Blixseth's Yellowstone Club at Big Sky
1992, Plum Creek Timber Co., a subsidiary of Northern Pacific Rail
Road Company sold their lands on the Gallatin National Forest to
Tim Blixseth and the McDougal brothers, foresters from Oregon.
Blixseth consolidated his lands by trading with the Forest Service
in 1998 and developed the 13,400-acre Yellowstone Club gated subdivision.
Members of the Club must show a worth of at least $3 million, pay
a membership fee of $250,000, annual dues of $16,000 and only members
and their guests and employees pass the gate.
of natural resource laws began in 1998 when Blixseth obtained only
9 permits for work that was much larger in scope than was permitted.
Seven permits were suspended. In 2002, the Club was accused of
violations of the federal Clean Water Act when they dumped dredge
and fill material into 2 miles of streams and on 10 acres of wetlands.
The Yellowstone Club was also fined $86,000 for 400 violations
of stream pollution, killing of trout, diversion and obliteration
streams, putting earth dams across streams, breaking down stream
banks and operating heavy earth moving equipment in streambeds,
draining and destroying streambeds and pumping water, stemming
a golf course, roads, bridges, culverts, ski lifts and ski runs
without a permit. State and federal regulators accused the Club
state stop orders, violation of state and federal water quality
laws, state sanitation laws and building more condominiums than
In 2003, Yellowstone
Club was fined $231,000 for failing to comply with DEQ permit requirements
for construction activities. In August
2004, the Club was fined $1,800,000 by the Environmental Protection
Agency for 60 unpermitted construction activities. In 1996, the
Corps had met with Blixseth to educate him on permit requirements.
the requirements but ignored them. Violations consisted of dumping
fill or dredged mud into federally protected wetlands and streams,
causing serious erosions with 5 ft. deep gullies.
2005, the EPA announced that Lone Moose Meadows, also owned by
the Blixseth Group, Inc. and Jim Dolan, will pay a $165,000
penalty and perform restoration work after destroying wetlands
while building this ski- in/ski-out village. Dredged fill mud was
onto wetlands near the West Fork of the Gallatin River during construction
of two roads, bridges and other structures associated with residential
development; culverts and a sewer line were installed in wetlands
and 2 bridges built across the West Fork of the Gallatin River,
also without permits. Lone Moose is a condominium and townhouse
between Big Sky’s Mountain Village and Meadow Village.
received a letter from a former employee of Yellowstone Club, who
wishes to remain anonymous
in fear of retaliation. He writes how staff and/or management’s
response to his complaints regarding destructive environmental practices,
was “If you don’t like it, leave,” or “don’t
worry about it, it’s not your concern,” or “don’t
worry about the EPA, what they can’t see won’t hurt them.” Instructions
for arrival of EPA personnel at the gate were: “detain them
at the gatehouse, call the attorneys and call senior management.
EPA doesn’t get on Club property, unless escorted and we can
hide whatever we want.” Then continues to describe how at the
shop area vehicles are washed and serviced in the open, oils, grease
and fluids are drained into the ground or washed into the soil, and
runoff goes directly into Muddy Creek, a tributary of the West Fork
Gallatin River; oils saturated with oil, auto fluids and contaminants
are scraped off and placed on the hillside next to the shop as fill,
slowly draining into Muddy Creek. When cement batch plant and trucks
are flushed and drained, the water seeps into Muddy Creek. Below
the shop and batch plant is the trash pile burning year-round construction
material, food waste, oils, rubber, wires, tires and the majority
of waste produced by the Club. When the nearby dumpster is full,
the trash is taken out and burned. Nearby is an automobile and equipment
graveyard leaking oil and fluids into the ground next to the water
Mountain the septic system serving the cabins and Rainbow Bar and
Grill leaches into an open field. At the gatehouse, used
by 12 to 15 employees, the septic system ruptured after filling
and freezing and leaks to the surface in the open area between
and parking lot. On Andesite Mountain housing area contractors
dump oil, fluids and burn construction waste. Erosion from constructing
the golf course continuously deposits mud into creeks. Employees
are working 10 hours a day just to slow down mud flow and the entire
construction area is sloughing into the river.
and ATV trespass into the Wilderness is common. A Club member rented
a helicopter to scout out elk in the Wilderness. Following
up on horse back and wounding the elk, he retrieved elk and gear
with the helicopter!
In 2003, Blixseth
filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Forest Service over who owns the
top of Lone Mountain Peak. He claimed the land
belonged to him as part of the Big Sky Lumber land exchanges of
1999. He said the peak could support another lift and was worth
U.S. District Judge Richard F. Cebull dismissed the lawsuit ruling
Moonlight Basin has existing domain to the peak because owner patent
was issued to Moonlight Basin before Blixseth’ land exchanges
were authorized by Congress. The boundaries of two national forests
as well as the Lee Metcalf Wilderness all converge near Lone Mountain’s
11,166 ft. summit.
Ski Resort and
at Big Sky
Moonlight Basin Ski Resort has
agreed to pay a $39,500 fine to the federal EPA for violating the
federal Wetlands Protection Law in 2003. EPA had originally sought
a $59,000 penalty for the violation but agreed to settle for the
lesser amount. In addition to paying the fine, Moonlight Basin will
repair the damage
to the wetlands. Wetlands help control
floods by absorbing and holding flood
runoff, filter pollution and protect the downstream riparian areas.
2005, Moonlight Basin announced a proposal to turn a gravel pit
into a pond to provide
water for a
planned 18-hole golf course 6 miles west of Big Sky in the Jack
The purpose of the gravel pit was to provide road material for
the many access roads. The pond will provide 40 acre/foot of water
snow making in winter and
irrigation water for the golf course in
summer. The golf course will open in
2007 at an altitude of 7,500 ft. and have 7,800 playable yards.
It will be the third golf course in the Big Sky area. Golf
courses use a lot of pesticides, fungicides, herbicides and fertilizers
that will eventually run off into the Jack
Creek/Madison River watershed.
More Big Sky
Land Development Corp. (James Taylor & Simkins Family)
and Montgomery Construction Co. of
Lewistown were fined $45,400 for pushing rock, topsoil and subsoil
over a steep bank into a Big Sky stream. The DEQ
required them to remove the pushed and
spilled material, replace bedrock in the stream channel and construct
above the stream bank to avoid further
sloughing of the stream bank into the
see the Gallatin River page.