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Articles written by Justin Franz

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  • Mill closures 'shock' industry, but officials say demand for wood remains

    Justin Franz, Montana Free Press|Updated Apr 23, 2024

    Five days a week, a short train rolls out of the rail yard in Whitefish with empty freight cars destined for the Flathead Valley's three surviving wood products mills in Columbia Falls and Evergreen. At one time, short trains like this could be found all over western Montana, serving mills in places like Libby, St. Regis, Darby and Pablo. But today, this is one of the few "local" freights left in the region. Since 1990, about three dozen mills have closed in western Montana,...

  • Testing confirms wastewater system leaking near Holland Lake

    Justin Franz, Montana Free Press|Updated Oct 25, 2023

    The U.S. Forest Service has shut down its wastewater treatment plant near Holland Lake and begun remediation efforts after testing confirmed that there was a leak in the system. The action comes after a local group opposed to an expansion of the Holland Lake Lodge filed a complaint with the Montana Department of Environmental Quality. Meanwhile, it appears the proposed expansion of the lodge is not going to happen, at least for now. Last week, the owner of the lodge said he...

  • As calls for aid increase, volunteer fire departments struggle to respond

    Justin Franz, Montana Free Press|Updated Jan 25, 2023

    COLUMBIA FALLS - When Karl Weeks started volunteering with the Columbia Falls Fire Department 23 years ago, he'd get called to duty every few days for things like car accidents, suspicious smoke or the occasional structure fire. Now the calls for help arrive daily. As Montana's population continues to grow, fire departments in communities large and small are being asked to do more every year. But the increase in calls is especially hard on smaller, volunteer departments. As a...

  • Forest Service turns back Holland Lake proposal, for now

    Justin Franz, Montana Free Press|Updated Nov 25, 2022

    A Utah-based developer is going to have to go back to the drawing board after the Flathead National Forest rejected its initial plan to expand and upgrade the Holland Lake Lodge in Condon. The plan had received significant opposition from locals in the Swan Valley who alleged that the expansion would negatively impact both the community and the environment there. In a Nov. 21 letter to the developer, POWDR of Park City, Utah, the Forest Service stated that there were...

  • JUSTIN FRANZ, Montana Free Press|Updated Oct 5, 2022

    A proposed expansion of the Holland Lake Lodge near Condon has raised concerns not only about the historic lakeside resort but about the future of the secluded Swan Valley. Those concerns come as the U.S. Forest Service is wrapping up a public comment period about a Utah-based developer’s plan for the lodge and surrounding resort. While western Montana has experienced a huge spike in development in recent decades — and especially in the last few years in places like Missoula and the Flathead Valley — the quiet valley in the s...  Website

  • Prices soar as 'Montana land grab' continues

    Justin Franz, Montana Free Press|Updated Nov 12, 2020

    This summer, seven empty lots on the face of Big Mountain in Whitefish were put up for sale - the smallest was just over a half an acre and listed at $1.2 million. The owners of the Northern Lights development weren't accepting offers on the properties until Sept. 1, but once they did, offers came flooding in. By the end of October, six of the seven lots had been sold. In years past, those lots might have waited much longer for buyers, but in 2020 the quick sales exemplify...