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Big Sky Developers Violate Natural Resource Laws

Big Sky Yellowstone Club - Water Pollution

Tim Blixseth's Yellowstone Club at Big Sky

In 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.

Violations 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 60 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 of 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 from constructing a golf course, roads, bridges, culverts, ski lifts and ski runs without a permit. State and federal regulators accused the Club of ignoring state stop orders, violation of state and federal water quality laws, state sanitation laws and building more condominiums than permitted.

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. He knew 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.

In November, 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 discharged 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 development between Big Sky’s Mountain Village and Meadow Village.

Recently, MRA 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 storage pond.

On Pioneer 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 the gatehouse 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.

Snowmobile 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 a fortune. 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.

Moonlight Basin Ski Resort and Subdivision 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.

In November, 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 Creek drainage. 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 for 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 Pollution

Gallatin Peaks 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 a terrace above the stream bank to avoid further sloughing of the stream bank into the stream. ~

Also see the Gallatin River page.

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