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Development of a controversial glamping retreat along the Gallatin River advanced this week after a county official approved a floodplain permit for the project.

Sean O’Callaghan, floodplain administrator for Gallatin County, approved a floodplain permit for the Riverbend Glamping Getaway, a high-end camping retreat that developers want to build on a flood-prone island west of Mill Street bridge in Gallatin Gateway.

The permit issued to Jeff and Jirina Pfeil greenlights their plans to repurpose a building, install access roads and utilities, add a wastewater lift station, do some minor grading and develop 58 sites with removable structures on the property. The permit is valid until Nov. 15, 2022.

According to permit approval documents, developers plan to set up structures that can be removed quickly during a flood-related evacuation, and O’Callaghan wrote that floodplain permits for boring a sewer force main, fiber optic line and natural gas line across the river have been issued.

Contractors who are hired to construct the project still must secure all necessary stormwater and dewatering permits from the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, O’Callaghan said.

The project’s developers had to secure a floodplain permit because much of the property lies within the 100-year floodplain of the Gallatin River.

Jeff Pfeil did not respond to requests for comment before deadline.

The Pfeils’ application laid out plans for Airstream trailers, Conestoga wagons and tiny homes for rent to be set up at campsites throughout the property. Utility lines along Gateway South Road and pipelines under the Gallatin River are meant to supply electricity, wastewater and natural gas services.

Gateway glamping

A security camera on the property of a proposed glamping site points toward Peggy and Gordon Lehmann's property on an island in the Gallatin River in Gallatin Gateway on Thursday, Nov. 18, 2021. The glamping site received a flood plain permit, which will allow its owners to continue work on the project.

Buildings that are already on the property will provide amenities for visitors, and a gravel road will connect the property with Gateway South Road, according to the application.

The Riverbend Glamping Getaway will “provide an economic benefit to Gallatin Gateway as a result of users patronizing the local businesses” and will “offer travelers the ability to safely enjoy the outdoors, Gallatin River and surrounding communities,” the application says.

O’Callaghan wrote that he received 335 written comments in response to the floodplain permit application. Commenters raised concerns about the project’s chances of exacerbating flood hazards on other properties, damaging riparian areas and degrading wetlands.

Several topics that were addressed in public comments, including concerns about the project’s impacts on wildlife habitat, water rights, stormwater runoff and water quality, were beyond O’Callaghan’s scope of review.

Gateway glamping

Peggy Lehmann blends in to her property on an island in the Gallatin River in Gallatin Gateway on Thursday, Nov. 18, 2021. Lehmann is opposing the glamping resort planned on her neighbor's property, which received a flood plain permit that will allow its owners to continue work on the project.

Peggy Lehmann, a Gallatin Gateway resident who owns land next to the proposed glampground, said she’s seen the Pfeils’ land underwater several times, and unpredictable events like ice jams can send water onto properties in the area.

“People don’t understand that these things can come out of nowhere,” she said. “We’re not against glampgrounds and development. We’re against inappropriate development in a floodplain.”

Lehmann said she was disappointed by O’Callaghan’s ruling. While she understands that he is limited to making a decision based on what regulations say, she said she still felt there was some room for interpretation.

Back in January, eight environmental groups led a petition requesting that the Gallatin County Planning Board evaluate the Riverbend Glamping Resort as a subdivision — a classification that requires more rigorous review.

Planning Director O’Callaghan determined that the resort did not meet the legal definition of a subdivision and didn’t need to be reviewed as such.

Gateway glamping

A spring-fed waterway passes under a fence into Peggy and Gordon Lehmann's property from the site of a proposed glamping resort on an island in the Gallatin River in Gallatin Gateway on Thursday, Nov. 18, 2021. The glamping resort received a floodplain permit, which will allow its owners to continue work on the project.

The floodplain permit decision can be appealed to the Gallatin County Commission by filing a notice of appeal. The deadline for filing the notice is Dec. 15.

Lehmann said she’s looking at the possibility of submitting an appeal. So is Scott Bosse of American Rivers — one of the eight groups that led the petition for subdivision review.

Bosse said setting up a glampground in a floodplain is like setting up camp on the interstate when no cars are coming.

“This is a sketchy project that will invite trouble down the road if it’s allowed to proceed,” he said. “It’s wildly out of step with community values .... We know this area is going to flood. It’s just a matter of when, how often and how severe it’s going to be.”

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Helena Dore can be reached at hdore@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2628.

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