Glampground 2

The area in dispute along the Gallatin River is pictured.

The controversial “glamping campground” proposed for an island in the Gallatin River near Gallatin Gateway is still in court, although for a different reason than the floodplain issue that garnered it so much attention over the last three years.

Now, campground owner Jeff Pfeil is appealing an adverse legal decision all the way to the Montana Supreme Court. Both the Gallatin Conservation District and the 18th Judicial District Court in Bozeman have ruled that work he did on a stockpond on his island is illegal.

He missed an April filing date for submitting appeal briefs before the Supreme Court and was granted a filing extension until June 30, next Thursday.

Pfeil had deepened and enlarged an existing stockpond, which is fed by a “jurisdictional creek,” according to the Gallatin Conservation District (GCD) and the District Court decisions.

At issue here is what legally constitutes a creek. Or a ditch. Specifically, what is it running through Pfeil’s property?

The GCD has the authority to issue mandatory permits to alter a natural perennial flowing stream, its beds or its immediate banks. To change a ditch doesn’t require a permit.

The GCD said Pfeil didn’t obtain a permit, and that he has a creek, not a ditch.

Not only did fail to obtain a permit, but he lied about having one, GCD Director Becky Clements told the Belgrade News. In October 2019, Pfeil was asked if he had a state 310 Permit, which the state requires for those who wish to do work on or near a stream, “and he told us he had a permit, and he did not. This went on for months. He lied. We asked him to submit a 310 application so we could see his drawings and plans, so we could see how to remediate the situation.

“Instead, he decided to not apply and disputed our jurisdiction (to District Court). We never did get a permit,” Clements said.

Clements said Pfeil could still get a permit after the fact. A fine for being out of compliance is up to $500 a day.

Clements said, “In the three years I’ve been here, this has never happened. Typically, people follow the rules and put in for permits. We like to focus on compliance before fines.”

The 18th Judicial District Court ruled against Pfeil on Feb. 28, 2022. The District Court order by Judge Rienne H. McElyea found that information submitted by the GCD “carried greater weight ... with historical imagery, sinuosity of the waterway, a similar stream on the same island, and testimony from community members as to the longstanding existence of a perennial flowing stream subjected to manipulation.”

McElyea also found that GCD did not “act in an arbitrary or capricious manner in its initial jurisdictional determination” and that although Pfeil supplied evidence “supporting a different result ... there was significant evidence on the other side which supports the conclusion by GCD.”

The court affirmed that the waterway in question is a jurisdictional stream, not a ditch.

“We are concerned about his pond,” added Clements. “It’s an on-channel pond, so there is an unnamed tributary. This pond is within that channel. It’s like someone dug out an area within this stream. So he needed to get a (310) permit.”

Pfeil’s legal argument was that he had a ditch, and needed no permit. In his paperwork to the GCD, he claimed that “Every single person that I have shared this information with has agreed that this is clearly a manmade ditch. Without any question in their minds.”

He stated that he “tried in earnest to learn the rules and follow them!” He said he hired two engineers who told him it was a manmade ditch, not a stream. They told him he didn’t need a 310 permit. He also said that complaining neighbors “have an axe to grind with me ... they do not ... like change.”

Pfeil’s contention was that the Gallatin County floodplain permit allowed him to dig up the creek/ditch with no other permit needed. Buddy Drake, a contracted inspector for Fish, Wildlife & Parks, wrote that he told Pfeil the FW&P “didn’t regulate the 310 Law.”’

Another document included with the District Court appeal showed that the Zillow listing for the property before Pfeil bought it listed it as coming with a spring creek.

Clements said she couldn’t speculate about a community rumor that the stockpond has been landscaped as a “glampground” fish pond amenity and was never intended to water livestock.

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