Jan 31, 2012 1:58 PM by David Sherman (KRTV, Great Falls)
The statue of Jesus near Whitefish can stay, despite recent controversy over the placement of the statue on federal land.
Flathead National Forest Supervisor Chip Weber announced on Tuesday that he is reauthorizing a special use permit for The Knights of Columbus Council No. 1328 of Kalispell, Montana for the display of the statue.
The statue is located on a small parcel of federal land within the Whitefish Mountain Resort permit boundary at Big Mountain in northwestern Montana.
In a press release, Weber states that the permit is reauthorized for 10 years and is for the "display of a statue of Jesus Christ on a 25 foot by 25 foot parcel of land near the top of Chair Two at Whitefish Mountain Resort."
Weber said, "I understand the statue has been a long-standing object in the community since 1955, and I recognize that the statue is important to the community for its historical heritage based on its association with the early development of the ski area on Big Mountain."
The decision was reached using an environmental analysis process for Categorical Exclusion under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
The Flathead National Forest received more than 95,000 public comments from October 19 to December 8, 2011. The comments did not identify substantive concerns related to environmental conditions.
Once the new permit is returned to the Flathead National Forest by the Kalispell Knights of Columbus with signature and payment, it will be signed by the Forest Supervisor and will remain in effect for the next ten years.
(October 28, 2011) The Flathead National Forest Supervisor is withdrawing his earlier decision to revoke the Knights of Columbus' special-use permit for the statue of Jesus on Big Mountain near Whitefish.
The Knights of Columbus received the permit to erect the statue in October 1953 and installed it in 1955. The permit has been renewed and granted every 10 years.
Recently, the Freedom From Religion Foundation objected to the statue, citing policy that prevents religious displays on federal lands.
In objecting to the statue's location, FFRF co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor said in a press release, "The Knights of Columbus and its backers claim the Jesus statue memorializes World War II veterans, specifically Catholic members at Kalispell's St. Matthew's parish. This is a sham designation that insults and excludes the many ‘atheists in foxholes' and non-Christian veterans who defended our country."
New information received after his August 24th decision to revoke the permit, however, convinced Forest Supervisor Chip Weber to notify the Regional Forester that he is withdrawing his earlier decision and will formally ask for public comment in the next few weeks about reissuing the permit.
Weber said in a press released, "Information that developed after my August 24th decision is a significant factor driving this withdrawal and reconsideration. It has always been clear to us that there are strongly held values associated with this monument and that it is important to the community."
The new information is from the Montana State Historical Preservation Office (SHPO), which determined that the site is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.
In their response to forest officials, the SHPO states that the monument "...is a local landmark that skiers recognize, and it is a historic part of the resort."