MILLTOWN – Like half-ton dust bunnies, sinker logs keep cropping up along the banks of the Blackfoot River.
Left over from turn of the 20th century river drives, the logs have been poking out of the gravel by the thousands since Milltown Dam was removed in 2008.
And while three efforts to clean them out have removed almost 19,000 of the logs, more keep showing up.
“For many of us, it was a surprise to see that many logs show up,” said Gary Matson of Friends of Two Rivers, a community group that’s monitored state and federal Superfund efforts to restore the confluence of the Blackfoot and Clark Fork rivers after the dam was removed. “It’s unacceptable that you go to all this trouble, doing a fantastic job of cleanup and restoration, and there’s still a lot of cleanup left to do.”
So that group and the Bonner Community Council want to raise awareness of the problem while the Legislature is in session and a new governor is settling into office. On Wednesday, it sent widespread emails to residents in Bonner, Milltown, West Riverside, Turah and Missoula asking for help.
Matson said since government agencies signed off on the restoration efforts last fall, a number of loose ends have continued to wag. Along with the sinker logs, the Blackfoot banks have sprouted old saw blades, wagon wheels and other leftovers from its sawmill days when a smaller dam spanned the river by what’s now the former Stimson Lumber plywood mill.
The community also worries about rebuilt Interstate 90 bridge piers that have made it nearly impossible to reach the confluence safely. Missoula Rural Fire Department tests last summer resulted in the loss of a test dummy that was floated toward the piers.
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They report continued erosion of riverbank slopes where houses overlook the water. And legal questions continue to delay the opening of a new state park on the Blackfoot’s southwest bank.
Doug Martin of the state Natural Resource Damage Program said the state no longer has dedicated money to clean up sinker logs by Bonner and Milltown since the larger reservoir project ended. He said the federal Environmental Protection Agency was being advised of the continuing problem.
“We believe that’s an EPA issue now,” Martin said. “EPA replaced people’s wells because of lower groundwater elevation, and some of their issues on the Blackfoot are the same kind of issue.”
The Clark Fork Coalition is also working to release some money from a previous state grant for river cleanup that remains unspent.
Chris Brick, the coalition’s science director, said about $50,000 remains from a program that removed 8,000 logs and several derelict bridge piers from the Blackfoot. That money was supposed to remove other piers in the Clark Fork, but that effort turned out more complicated than the budget could handle.
“We’re waiting to see what we can use the remainder for,” Brick said. “It was for the removal of hazards, and hazards still exist.”
Reporter Rob Chaney can be reached at 523-5382 or at email@example.com.