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PABLO – A price has been set for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes to acquire Kerr Dam next year – and the number is tens of millions of dollars closer to what the tribes said it was worth than what PPL Montana had sought.

CSKT almost immediately filed formal notice with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission regarding their intent to acquire the Kerr Project.

The only step left is to write the check, according to Brian Lipscomb, CEO of Energy Keepers, a federally chartered corporation wholly owned by the tribes, and which will purchase the dam on behalf of the tribes.

The check will be for $18,289,798.

That’s the figure an American Arbitration Association panel came up with Monday after weighing arguments from both the tribes, who said $14.7 million was a fair price, and PPL Montana, which said the acquisition cost should be almost $50 million.

Extensive hearings on the price were held in January.

“This is a historic day for the Confederated Salish, Pend d’Oreille and Kootenai Tribes,” CSKT Chairman Ron Trahan said. “We’ve been working toward this for 40 years. It brings tears to my eyes, because it’s something we never quit on.”

The earliest the transfer of ownership can take place is Sept. 5, 2015.

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With new ownership will come a new name for the dam, Lipscomb confirmed Wednesday following a news conference at CSKT headquarters announcing the price.

Opposed by many tribal members on the Flathead Indian Reservation when it was being built, the dam on the lower Flathead River was completed in 1938 and named for the then-president of Montana Power Co., Frank Kerr.

No new name has been selected, and the final decision will rest with the Tribal Council, Lipscomb said.

“We don’t typically name things from a marketing standpoint, but rather choose names based on what the place stands for to us,” Lipscomb said.

Otherwise, the only changes local residents will notice, he said, is that “control will be in local hands, and the economic benefit will stay here instead of going to Pennsylvania.”

PPL, the parent company of PPL Montana, is headquartered in Allentown, Pa.

The tribes must operate the dam under the same licensing requirements as PPL Montana.

Mission Valley Power, which supplies local power and is also run by the tribes, gets its electricity from the Bonneville Power Administration, Lipscomb said, while the energy generated by Kerr Dam is sold on the open market.

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The Flathead Reservation tribes will become the first in the nation to own a major hydroelectric facility.

“We’ve been titled as visionary people, and it plays out,” council member Lloyd Irvine said. Acquisition of the dam “is one of the tools that ensures the future of our people.”

But another council member, Terry Pitts, urged caution.

“We should not be blinded by the bling,” Pitts said. “There will be a lot of issues that come with this. We need to be fully prepared. We need to be cautious and take our time.”

The nearly $35 million difference in what the tribes wanted to pay, and what PPL Montana sought, included some $30 million of potential mitigation costs associated with the dam.

The arbitration panel’s decision “means we won’t have to pay for damages to our own resources,” Lipscomb said. “So we’re pretty excited. We had our day in court, and were dealt with fairly.”

***

Kevin Howlett, now director of CSKT’s Tribal Health Department but a Tribal Council member some three decades ago, said the negotiations back then that led to Wednesday’s announcement were extremely difficult.

“We left a lot on the table, knowing full well we’d get to this point,” Howlett said. “I’m confident future generations will say we did the right thing.”

Howlett said there were council members who opposed acquiring the dam back then, and preferred seeking higher rent for the land where the dam sits.

“But a few progressive members like me, Mickey Pablo, James Steele Sr. and Laurence Kenmille Sr. felt this was the lifeline of our future, and we’d do all we can to get it,” Howlett said.

Trahan likewise paid tribute to “the ancestors who had the vision,” and the many tribal councils over the decades that have set aside funds to enable the purchase.

“I’d also like to thank all the members for the sacrifices they put up with” so the money could be saved for the dam, he added.

CSKT Vice Chair Carole Lankford noted that several tribal members employed while the dam was being built in the 1930s were killed in a landslide during construction.

“When I think of the dam, I think of the lives lost,” Lankford said.

The acquisition price announced by the three-person arbitration panel includes approximately $16.5 million for the tangible plant, and $1.7 million for environmental mitigation costs.

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Reporter Vince Devlin can be reached at 1-800-366-7186 or by email at vdevlin@missoulian.com.

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