Missoulian $35 million will go toward fish and wildlife in Flathead

The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes will receive approximately $35 million for fish and wildlife enhancement projects, as part of a lawsuit settlement announced Thursday, for mitigation of environmental damage caused by the operation of Kerr Dam on the Flathead River.

The lawsuit settlement was reached by the tribes, Montana Power Co., PPL Montana, Trout Unlimited and the U.S. Department of Interior.

In the lawsuit, Montana Power Co. challenged Federal Energy Regulatory Commission conditions for relicensing Kerr Dam that were set in 1995. Those conditions included mitigation for harm caused to fish and wildlife.

Later, the tribes, Trout Unlimited and the U.S. Interior Department intervened in the lawsuit in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Last year, Montana Power's interest in Kerr Dam was sold to PPL Montana.

Under the agreement, announced by the Department of Interior, the tribes will receive about $35 million from Montana Power and PPL Montana to fund fish and wildlife mitigation activities on the Flathead Indian Reservation.

"The tribes are pleased to have the long-standing dispute regarding Kerr Project environmental mitigation resolved, and we appreciate the efforts put forth by all parties toward achieving a settlement," said Jamie Hamel, vice chairman of the Tribal Council.

"The tribes believe that the terms of the settlement are consistent with the terms of the Hellgate Treaty of 1855 and with the requirements of the Federal Power Act. It will protect the Flathead Reservation from impacts attributable to the Kerr Project, so that the tribes can preserve the reservation as their traditional homeland."

The settlement will not change the requirement that the Kerr Hydroelectric Project be operated as a electricity-generating facility that protects fish and wildlife downstream of the dam.

The dam operators also are still responsible for making annual fish and wildlife mitigation payments of $1.44 million.

Executives of both Montana Power and PPLM expressed satisfaction with the resolution of the lawsuit.

"PPLM is proud to be the new co-licensee for the Kerr Project with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, and looks forward to a productive partnership with them," said Roger Petersen, president of PPLM. "This settlement is important progress for the tribes, and we are honored to be a part of it."

"We've waited 15 years for a final agreement on getting fish and wildlife dollars from the Kerr Project to the ground," said Bruce Farling, executive director of Montana Trout Unlimited, "so this settlement is an important achievement."

The agreement is an excellent example of how federal resource agencies are working collaboratively and constructively with licensees, tribes and others in the hydropower licensing arena, according to David Hayes, deputy secretary of the Interior.

The settlement

The Kerr Dam settlement includes payments to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of:

€ $17 million for fish and wildlife habitat acquisition on the Flathead Reservation.

€ $10.75 million for fish and wildlife habitat restoration on the reservation, or as needed, to supplement funding of fish stocking and fish reintroduction in Flathead Lake and the lower Flathead River.

€ $7 million for fish stocking, supplementation and reintroduction activities in Flathead Lake and the lower Flathead River.

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