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Court gives neighbors say in Glacier National Park inholder lawsuit

| June 5, 2024 7:30 AM

By CHRIS PETERSON

Hungry Horse News

A group of West Glacier residents have been given intervenor status in a federal case involving a private home that many charge was built illegally on the banks of McDonald Creek in Glacier National Park.

The neighbors, who filed the initial complaints against the home last year, are calling themselves Friends of Montana Rivers and Streams and include Monica Jungster, a longtime Apgar businesswoman and Mary McClelland, a longtime West Glacier resident, among many others.

“Friends of Montana Rivers and Streams has an interest in enforcement of the Natural Streambed and Land Preservation Act and advancing its right to a clean and healthful environment under the Montana Constitution,” U.S. Magistrate Kathleen DeSoto ruled on May 28, allowing the intervenor status.

John and Stacy Ambler of San Diego, California last year filed a federal lawsuit against the Flathead Conservation District claiming the agency had no jurisdiction to order a home the Amblers built on private property inside Glacier Park removed from the banks of the stream.

The home was built in violation of Montana’s Natural Streambed and Land Preservation Act, the Conservation District maintained, because the Amblers never applied for, or received the necessary permit, called a 310 permit, to disturb the bank when they built the house.

The Conservation District oversees the permitting process across Flathead County.

(As a side note, there was no guarantee the Amblers would have received the permit even if they had applied).

The house is perched on the bank of the stream in Apgar Village in Glacier National Park and today sits there, unfinished.

The district learned of the home when several neighbors and former Park Service employees filed complaints against the Amblers. The district, in turn, initially ordered the home removed in March 2023.

The Amblers went through a state appeals process, including filing suit against the district in Flathead County District Court. They also filed a federal lawsuit in December, 2023, after an appointed hearing officer found in favor of Conservation District matter. The Conservation District, in turn, ordered the home removed again last fall. 

Today the home sits in a bit of legal limbo as both the federal and local cases wind their way through the courts.

Trent Baker, the Amblers’s attorney, objected to allowing the intervention, claiming, in part, it wasn’t filed in a timely matter, as Friends of Montana Rivers and Streams clearly knew a suit had been filed in December, he argued.

But DeSoto disagreed, noting the case is still in its early stages.

The case is likely to evolve in two distinct ways, with the federal court determining if the Conservation District has jurisdiction in the matter and the local court determining whether the Amblers are actually in violation of the Streambed law. There has been no movement in the district court case, presumably as parties first wait for a ruling from the federal court.

Baker has argued in previous hearings that the state ceded jurisdiction to the federal government when Glacier National Park was created in 1910. He also has claimed the Amblers were told by county planning officials that they didn’t need any permits when they first planned to build the home, so, in essence, they thought they were in the clear to start construction.

They then went ahead and poured a foundation/retaining wall into the creek bank and proceeded to build the home.

The home is unfinished, however, as the Amblers adhered to a cease and desist order issued by the Conservation District last year.

The creek itself is idyllic and largely undeveloped, almost all of it is federally-owned and protected as part of Glacier National Park.

Friends of Montana Rivers and Streams attorney Robert M. Ferris-Olson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.