Clark Fork River Returns to Reconstructed “Original” Channel
Redevelopment of former Milltown Reservoir site into state park one step closer
HELENA – On Thursday afternoon, Governor Brian Schweitzer joined representatives of state, tribal and local agencies as they waited for the Clark Fork River to wind its way along a two-mile stretch of river bed constructed to match the river’s course before it was blocked by the Milltown Dam over a century ago.
“This is a testament to the possibilities of the restoration economy – to repair the mistakes of the past, restore a river and create high paying jobs. The Milltown Dam removal is a feather in the cap for Montana and the nation and is the gold standard on how to do it right,” Governor Brian Schweitzer said.
Earlier that morning, workers removed the berm that had diverted the river into the temporary by-pass channel that had carried it around the Milltown Dam clean-up and restoration construction activities since 2007. This seventh and final diversion placed the Clark Fork River into the new channel constructed as part of the integrated remediation and restoration project at the Milltown Dam Superfund site.
“What started out as a dream — a clean and free-flowing river accessible to generations of Montanans — is now within our reach,” Attorney General Steve Bullock said. “There are a lot of people who made this possible, from the workers running the big equipment to state and federal staff who have devoted their entire careers to seeing this project through. They all deserve to be proud of the fine job they’ve done.”
The State of Montana’s channel and floodplain construction activities span about 13,000 feet upstream of where the Milltown Dam was located. Between 2007 and 2009, remediation activities led by the Environmental Protection Agency removed 2.6 million cubic yards of contaminated reservoir sediments. The State of Montana restoration activities, coordinated by the Natural Resource Damage Program, removed an additional 500,000 cubic yards of sediment from the reservoir.
“All the construction workers, equipment operators, scientists, engineers, project managers and designers working on this project deserve major credit for a job well done,” NRDP project manager Doug Martin noted. “They fit all the pieces of this huge, complex puzzle of a project together very nicely.”
Thursday also marked the official transfer of 415 acres of land owned by NorthWestern Energy Corporation to the State of Montana. The transfer of this land, which extends about 2.5 miles upriver from the former dam site, is part of the consideration NorthWestern is providing to the State to settle the State’s natural resource damage claim against the energy company.
As part of this conveyance, and with EPA’s help, the State will receive Superfund liability protection for the land it is acquiring. After the restoration of the site is completed, this riverfront land will become the centerpiece of the State park the Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks is planning for the Milltown site.
Julie DalSoglio, EPA Montana Office Director, praised today’s event saying, “By working together, the many players from state, tribal, federal, and local levels have accomplished more than any could have done alone. We are cleaning up the Milltown Superfund Site, restoring the wonderful Clark Fork River, and creating a legacy for future generations. In this holiday season, this is truly a gift for all.”
“This marks a major milestone in a world class remediation-restoration project that generations of Montanans will benefit from,” Department of Environmental Quality director Richard Opper said. “To the people who made this happen, I offer my thanks. To the Clark Fork River, I say “Welcome Home!”