041212 Milltown

T&T Excavating owner Ty Smith gets a new dump-truck load of rock in April 2012 to reinforce the bank of the Blackfoot River where the Milltown State Park will be developed.

ROB CHANEY/Missoulian

DEER LODGE – The outline for spending $65.5 million restoring the upper Clark Fork River basin got its first public review Wednesday.

Projects range from $2.4 million for Milltown State Park facilities east of Missoula to $20 million for buying water rights to increase the amount of water for fish in the Clark Fork and its tributaries.

“I feel like there should be a drum roll going on,” said Carol Fox of the Montana Department of Justice’s Natural Resource Damage Program. “These proposals merit a deep look, not a superficial one.”

After 10 years of doling out annual grant awards, NRDP has opted to create a long-range plan for spending its remaining bank account. The money, from a court settlement covering a century’s worth of mining damage to the 325,000-acre region, will take up to 20 years to spend. The Upper Clark Fork Remediation and Restoration Advisory Council got first crack at the proposals.

“This is the home stretch of a long process,” council chairman Bill Rossbach said. “We had 80 proposed projects. But we haven’t had a look at the specifics until now.”

The $65.5 million was split, $45.6 million for aquatic projects and $19.9 million for terrestrial ones. About 10 percent of each pot will go to recreation enhancements. The rest goes to things like fish screens, conservation easements and habitat improvement.

Rossbach said one major decision the council made was to require all proposals have a direct impact on damaged lands or their surroundings. That meant ideas like an $8 million pedestrian bridge across the Clark Fork near Bonner did not make the final cut, because it wouldn’t improve the river.

But a proposal to remove a diversion dam on the Blackfoot River in Bonner worth $50,000 was included. While it’s most obvious benefit was to boaters floating down the river, it also would make it easier for fish to travel.

The aquatic funds spread across 12 watersheds, including the Little Blackfoot River, Flint Creek and Warm Springs Creek. Doug Martin of the NRDP explained that making improvements on a place like Brown’s Gulch near Rocker would improve the ability of a genetically pure population of westslope cutthroat trout to stock the main Clark Fork. That helps restore the whole river drainage to it’s pre-mining ecological vitality.

Terrestrial projects are slated for nine landscapes. On a map, they line a rough box cornered by Drummond, Garrison, Deer Lodge and Philipsburg. While Philipsburg is far from the mining wastes of Butte and Anaconda, it sits in a crucial wildlife crossing area that serves those other corners.

The complete plan can be found on the Internet at https://doj.mt.gov/lands.

The catalog of proposals will take public comment through Oct. 26. Gov. Brian Schweitzer may give final approval to the plan in December.

Reporter Rob Chaney can be reached at 523-5382 or at rchaney@missoulian.com.

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