This is one of my older pieces, I reserved the piece AND the writing for the time I would be laid up after shoulder surgery. The initial operation was somewhat succesful BUT “they” are discussing the possibility of another operation in the next month or so. I’m stil very limited in the use of my right arm, which is why for “those days” I have these blogs prepared.
My initial introduction to the State of Montana, was provided by my Step-Dad. HE began frequenting the state around the time I was born! Dad and a couple of buddies were interested in find a place to go Antelope hunting, and had written to the Chamber of Commerce in several Montana towns. In turn, Dad and his group were referred to a rancher in one of the small (population 90!) Southeastern towns.
As the years passed, Dad became very close friends with Harry, the ranch-owner, Hughie, the rancher’s son and their entire family. “We” began going to Montana on summer vacations, at the invitation of the ranchers. Loaded up the ‘ole 64 Ford station wagon, hooked up the pop up camper, and off we’d go! I came to share the love of life on the ranch and the territory as much as my father. One year, we traveled to Montana early, and I was allowed to stay on the ranch through the summer. That was the year before I was sent to Nebraska (Boys Town) to live…
What a glorious summer that was! Riding fence with Hughie son, Rusty. De-horning and branding calves. Milking the cow, working in their “garden” (which was a couple of acres of vegetables and produce!). I learned to can, rope calves, cook on a wood burning stove. On those “off days” which were far and few between in Ranch Life, Rusty and I rode horses over to the Buttes and fossil hunt. Other days, we’d take the horses the other direction, visiting the original “home place”, which had burned to the ground many years prior.
Eventually, after I’d graduated from Boys Town, my Step-Dad invited me to accompany “the men” on a Montana hunting trip. October, 1977! Dad, Uncle Bill, Jim the Cop and Bill the pharmacist came through Omaha from Louisville to pick me up. Whew… Something else I’d like to get to paper,,,
Meanwhile as years passed, I came to follow Montana politics, environmental issues. This panting came from a culmination of some of the rides Rusty and I shared, as well as more current events in the State. You’ll have to look closely to the right, for the bridge!
For the first time in over 100 years, the Clark Fork and Blackfoot Rivers above Thompson Falls Dam will run free without blockage. The dismantling of the Milltown Dam on the Clark Fork, and the Stimson Dam on the Blackfoot, will open the two river systems to migrating fish up to their sources. Milltown Dam originally built for power generation, and Stimson Dam, built to stop logs from log drives, became a liability to communities along the rivers. Neither dam provided useful water storage nor electricity generation and prevented fish passage to their historic spawning grounds on tributaries.
Restoring bull and cutthroat trout populations and restoring floating through the Milltown Dam site will go a long way to restoring our self-respect and resolving to never again allow a corporation to “lock a copper collar around our necks”. Milltown Dam was built in 1906 by magnate William Clark to generate power for his sawmills at Milltown and Bonner. Montana Power Co. had its start here, as a subsidiary of mining activities, producing mine tunnel props for Butte.
On November 10, 2000, cracks and voids of 12 to 18 inches were found in the dam and spillway. Water was seeping through and displacing fill, and settling indicated a catastrophic dam failure. Such a flood is easily possible considering the amount of denuded land in the two-river drainages above the dam. If the dam were breached, 6,600,000 cubic yards of toxic sediment would poison aquatic, terrestrial and human life down river into Idaho’s Lake Pend Oreille.
In 1981, the Missoula City/County Health Department informed the residents of Milltown, Bonner, and Piltzville that their wells were contaminated with over 10 times the amount of arsenic that federal drinking water standards allow. Leaching from behind the dam are toxic mining sediments of copper, zinc, cadmium, lead and arsenic which are strongly linked to bladder, lung and kidney cancer. Wells were shut down and bottled water distributed.
The project will begin by building a bypass channel around the dam, where the river is held temporarily while the dam is removed. When a dam is taken out, sediments are redistributed and that means trouble for aquatic life downstream. Some of the heavy metals will settle in the rocks in stream bottoms and release their toxins over time. During high water heavy metals will slowly move downstream and hammer resident fish. 2,600,000 cubic yards of heavy metal contaminated sediments are to be excavated from the reservoir and transported by rail to the Opportunity ponds, which were used by ACM as settling ponds for smelter waste. These are no longer ponds, but 7 square miles of mining waste 5 to 10 ft. high, containing high levels of copper, lead, cadmium, zinc, mercury and arsenic.
Eventually a natural river channel will be constructed through the old reservoir and pass the tilted rock fault where the dam has blocked the Clark Fork River for 100 years.
We hear about human beings “ravaging” the land. This is one of those cases. If you ever traveled or lived in this country, you would understand why people have such strong feelings over these issues.