Concerns Over Houseboats in Flathead Lake Raise

December 2016 News Colin Peterson Web Exclusive

Benjamin Lard bought his first houseboat on Flathead Lake, in Montana, in January 2016. Now, he's already facing daily backlash about having it removed.

Previously, Flathead Lake had no restrictions against houseboats. All of a sudden, they've become a problem due to community complaints. Jim Thompson, a Somers resident, submitted a petition to the Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks (FWP) Commission asking them to implement rules limiting the amount of time houseboats can be anchored in one place on the lake. He doesn't like how the boats are stationed in front of waterfront properties and the public beach. "Flathead Lake is public water, and I just don’t think they should be able to turn it into their personal campground," Thompson said. Thompson is not alone when he says this; many shoreline property owners on the lake feel the same way as him.

Benjamin Lard's houseboat is moored to a private pier in Somers Bay; he's gone out of his way to help reduce the community's concerns over his floating home. “I’ve actually tried to talk to them and be nice with everyone. I grew up here and I know a lot of people here,” he said. “It kind of took me by surprise." Lard did this, because he really wanted to live on the lake, but lakefront property is too expensive for him. While there have been complaints against his home, though, they've largely fallen into void. 

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' jurisdiction over navigable bodies of water, created by the federal Rivers and Harbors Act, does not encompass anywhere in Flathead Lake. The Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC) has jurisdiction over the lakebed below the historic low-water mark, but it can only stretch its authority once someone attempts to build or place a permanent structure at the bottom of the lake. Montana's Department of Environmental Quality also received a complaint from another source earlier this year that Lard was dumping sewage in the lake; the angency enforces water quality standards, but it found that Lard was in compliance with regulations.

In the wake of the concerns, however, the DNRC has put forth new regulations that will require boats moored or anchored below the low-water mark to relocate at least 500 feet every 14 days, according to spokesman John Grassy. This now makes houseboat anchoring a "grey area" in the lake, because the low-water mark becomes barely visible in various parts of the lake, especially on the north shore where there's a gradual drop-off in the water level. It's hard to tell the difference; on top of that, the legal boundaries vary there. "On the north shore, some private property goes out into the lake – sometimes way out – so some boats may be on private land, and some may be on DNRC land. It’s something that would have to be surveyed," said FWP Warden Capt. Lee Anderson.

What advice would you give to Benjamin Lard about what he could do with his houseboat so he faces fewer complaints? Any help would be greatly appreciated. Feel free to email your thoughts to colin@harrispublishing.com.

More Information:

www.dailyinterlake.com/members/commission-to-look-at-oversight-of-houseboats-on-flathead-lake

www.missoulian.com/news/local/floating-homes-concerns-mount-over-houseboats-in-somers-bay

Photos credited to DailyInterLake.com and Missoulian.com

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