Hearing next week on second phase of Brooks Creek Acres

HAMILTON - Ravalli County commissioners have rejected the first phase of a major development planned on the Bitterroot River adjacent to the Lee Metcalf Wildlife Refuge.

The commissioners cited a lack of information about groundwater impacts and highway access in rejecting the plans for Brooks Creek Acres on Tuesday. The proposal would have created 30 condominium lots on a 23-acre parcel located on the east side of U.S. Highway 93 two miles north of the Stevensville Wye.

Two of three monitoring wells at the site indicated groundwater levels were within 10 inches of minimum standards set by the state Department of Environmental Quality, according to a report prepared by the state Land Services Department.

And even though a test well near the location of the shared drainfield indicated a groundwater level of 77 inches - the state minimum is 48 inches - associate planner Lea Jordan noted that it was likely to rise.

"February is considered a dry month," Jordan said. Typically, groundwater levels peak in July or August.

Also on Tuesday, commissioners released a final draft of their proposed amendments to the subdivision regulations.

If adopted later in April, the amendments would require developers to provide enough information about groundwater levels to prove the feasibility of a septic system and water well.

Commissioners also had questions about the subdivision's highway access, which Gilbert Larson, consultant on the project for developer Questa Resources, couldn't completely satisfy.

The commissioners expressed concern about the safety of an estimated 240 cars entering the highway each day and the increased traffic load on Stevensville River Road, a substandard county road.

Larson said expansion plans for U.S. 93 already include a fifth lane for turning at both intersections proposed as highway accesses.

"And we would be willing to discuss improvements to Stevensville River Road from the highway to our access," Larson said.

Commissioners also noted that a herd of elk frequents the area, but Larson said the area was not critical winter range or a calving ground. In addition, if the movement of elk and deer were restricted, animal-vehicle collisions on U.S. 93 might be reduced.

"It's not an appropriate place for elk or deer to graze near the highway," Larson said.

Before the commissioners denied the subdivision application, Larson noted that a second phase of the development was being considered if the first failed.

"But we are not proposing to build both phases simultaneously," Larson said.

Next week, commissioners will hear the proposal for the second phase. The preliminary hearing is scheduled for Thursday at 7 p.m.

Consisting of 56 detached single-family dwellings on lots averaging about 10,000 square feet in size, the second phase of Brooks Creek Acres would include many of the same features as the first phase: shared drainfields, dry-laid sewer and a common interior road.

Todd Struckman is a reporter for the Ravalli Republic in Hamilton.

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