A controversial glamping resort along the Gallatin River will live on after an exhaustive appeals process.
The Gallatin County Commission had to decide if Gallatin County Floodplain Administrator Sean O’Callaghan acted “erroneously” in his interpretation of floodplain regulations or other state and federal laws in his approval of Jeff and Jirina Pfeil’s floodplain permit for the Riverbend Glamping Getaway resort near Gallatin Gateway.
The commissioners unanimously decided that O’Callaghan did not act erroneously in his decision.
“It’s something that I would say is better than good, it was a pretty great performance by the floodplain administrator,” Commissioner Scott MacFarlane said.
However, the commission did add a condition that required a portion of the glamping property — 30 of the 58 proposed sites that would be occupied by Conestoga covered wagons are in the floodplain — to remove accommodations and seal off utilities that are on the floodplain from Nov. 1 to July 1.
The condition was added to avoid damage during peak flood season and to prevent debris moving downstream that could harm residents.
That condition came from a suggestion made by the joint appeal group of the Madison-Gallatin Trout Unlimited, the Greater Yellowstone Coalition and American Rivers who were represented by lawyer Kirsa Shelkey.
Shelkey said during her testimony that the condition would act as a middle ground, allowing the Pfeils to operate their business while also bringing the permit into compliance with floodplain regulations.
The decision was made by trying to figure out how to bolster the purpose of the floodplain regulations — specifically balancing the greatest public good with the least damage to a private business.
“That condition with date limitations strikes that balance pretty eloquently,” Commissioner Zach Brown said.
The nearly seven-hour hearing covered much more ground, however.
The commissioners heard testimony and rebuttal from O’Callaghan and Jeff Pfeil and his lawyer Brian Gallik. They also heard from lawyers representing the appellant groups and Dick Shockley and Peter Stein.
The testimony focused on O’Callaghan’s consideration of the purpose of the floodplain regulations, a metal building the Pfeils are proposed to renovate, whether there was adequate time for public comment and the evacuation plan that the Pfeils added to their permit application.
The evacuation plan, in particular, was discussed heavily.
“The Pfeils ignore the elephant in the room,” Protect the Gallatin’s lawyer Kim Wilson said. “How will they be able to timely evacuate the units of the floodplain to meet the floodplain rules?”
Though an evacuation plan is not required by floodplain regulations, the Pfeils added one to the application anyway.
The appellants said the plan was inadequate, and wanted more information on how units would be moved, how people would be evacuated and how utilities would be shut off in the midst of an impending flood.
“These have gone unanswered, and should be answered before we issue a permit,” Shelkey said.
Developer Jeff Pfeil provided more insight on how evacuation would work during his testimony. He said that utilities, like gas and electric, would have quick shut off couplers, and that the Conestoga wagons could be removed in a matter of minutes.
“The whole thing can be done with one staff member in under four hours,” Jeff Pfeil said. “We’re talking about less than 4 minutes for each wagon.”
All in-person public comment on the issue was against the glamping resort.
Former Gallatin County Commissioner John Vincent urged the commission to rescind the floodplain permit, warning that allowing the development to move forward would set a pro-development precedent.
“This is your decision,” Vincent said. “This is your legacy.”