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GALLATIN GATEWAY — Peggy Lehmann trudged through the deep snow, pointing out the cottonwood trees where she’s seen owls, a creek meandering through her property and wetland plants poking out of the frozen ground.

Lehmann and her husband, Gordon, have owned their land on Gateway South Road for more than 20 years and enjoy the undeveloped spot near the Gallatin River as a place to walk their dogs, cross-country ski and fly fish.

They now fear the river could be irreparably harmed.

Jeff and Jirina Pfeil have applied for a floodplain permit to build a sewer force main and fiber optic line under the Gallatin River to connect their property, which lies just west of the Mill Street Bridge, to the Gallatin Gateway Water and Sewer District. NorthWestern Energy has also applied for a permit to place a natural gas pipeline under the river for the property.

The Gallatin County Planning Department is accepting public comment on the two permits until Feb. 18.

Jeff Pfeil and NorthWestern Energy said they have taken steps to ensure the pipeline projects won’t damage the river.

The planning department has previously approved the construction of pipelines under rivers — including a petroleum pipeline under the East Gallatin River — but planning director Sean O’Callaghan said he doesn’t know of any such projects under the main Gallatin River.

The floodplain permits are associated with the Riverbend Glamping Getaway, a proposed vacation destination that could eventually have 37 walled canvas tents and 20 Conestoga wagons for guests.

Each camping unit would have access to water from a well on the property, electricity from lines along Gateway South Road and wastewater services and natural gas via the pipelines.

Lehmann has been reaching out to her neighbors, urging them to submit comments on the pipeline projects.

“If no one comes along and speaks up, it’ll probably just happen,” she said.

Lehmann is concerned that construction of the pipelines could disturb the river and the riparian habitat and that, once in place, the pipelines could leak, polluting the river.

Her neighbor, Dick Shockley, has lived on Gateway South Road for 45 years. His property, along with the Lehmanns’ and the Pfeils’, sits on an island that connects to the rest of Gallatin Gateway via two bridges. Because they live in the middle of the river, they are at its whim, Shockley said.

“The river does what it wants to do,” he said. “I’m the grandson of Montana homesteaders, and I want my grandchildren and their grandchildren to enjoy the river and the mountains and the special resources we have here. If we keep intruding on those pristine areas, we’re going to destroy them.”

Cary Fox recently bought a place along the Gallatin River that is under conservation easement. He can see the proposed Riverbend Glamping Getaway from his property and worries the new construction will change the river.

“It’s a beautiful spot on the river and the conservation easement keeps it that way forever,” he said. “We don’t want to disturb the river at all and don’t want anyone else to disturb it either.”

The Riverbend Glamping Getaway will enable people to enjoy the river and will provide amenities that are a step up from camping but are “attainable to all demographics,” Jeff Pfeil said.

He said he recognizes how contentious the project is and will do everything he can to ensure the Riverbend Glamping Getaway doesn’t adversely impact the Gallatin River.

“It’s not easy to hear people are upset about this project,” he said. “I am a tree-hugger and a conservationist and I care so much about this landscape and this river. I promise to be the best steward this property could ever have.”

The pipelines would be 10 feet below the riverbed to prevent flotation, collapse or movement, according to the permit applications. Construction will happen in the winter and early spring to limit the possible impact of floods and all precautions will be taken to prevent erosion.

“It’s important for people to know that if anything happened, we have the most to lose because we are building a retreat for people to enjoy the river and we have riverfront property,” said Pfeil, who owns Bozeman Pest Control and Bozeman Tree, Lawn and Landscape Care.

The floodplain permit applications say Pfeil and NorthWestern explored alternatives to placing pipelines under the river — including attaching them under the Mill Street Bridge and installing them in an excavated trench — but determined that going beneath the river was the best option.

NorthWestern Energy spokesperson Jo Dee Black said in an emailed statement that the company is following the floodplain permit process and complying with all relevant regulations, which included hiring an engineer to conduct a hydrological study.

“Regulatory permitting and oversight of natural gas lines under river and stream beds is robust, as it should be,” Black said. “The result is a strong record of safety of such lines.”

After the public comment period closes on Feb. 18, O’Callaghan, the county’s floodplain administrator, will decide whether to issue floodplain permits to the Pfeils and NorthWestern Energy. His decision could then be appealed to the Gallatin County Commission.

Additional permits from other local or state agencies may be necessary before construction related to the Riverbend Glamping Getaway can begin.

The Pfeils have applied for another county floodplain permit to do minor work on their property to build the retreat. That application will likely open for public comment in a few weeks, O’Callaghan said.

The Pfeils plan to construct a gravel road connecting the units to Gateway South Road. The few buildings now on the property will be converted to amenities for visitors like a gift shop and coffee shop. There may eventually be an additional building with an office, fly shop, tiki bar, outdoor patio, small lounge and employee dorm.

“I’m proposing the most natural and least impactful development this site could have,” Pfeil said. “I can’t stress enough how important this environment is to me.”

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Perrin Stein can be reached at or at 582-2648.

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