December 12, 2010

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A new planning document and two recent state reports on fisheries and upland wildlife habitat priorities may form the foundation of a long awaited Natural Resources Damage Program restoration plan for the Upper Clark Fork River basin.

The NRD Program administers the $100 million fund created by the state after its successful lawsuit against the Atlantic Richfield Company over damages to the upper Clark Fork River Basin - from Butte to Milltown. The program has sought to develop a restoration plan though a past effort failed in 2008 for lack of a basin-wide consensus.

This fall, a new NRDP Advisory Council - appointed by the Governor - released its draft Long Range Restoration Priorities and Fund Allocation Guidance Plan that outlines how the Restoration Fund should be spent. The Draft Long Range Guidance Plan was subsequently approved by NRDP trustees for release to the public for review. The new plan would:

  • Allocate funds to groundwater, aquatic and terrestrial resources based on the percentages of these injuries claimed in the original lawsuit, State of Montana v. ARCO.
  • Streamline the funding process for groundwater projects in Butte and Anaconda to avoid the time and administrative costs of the grants program;
  • Earmark money leftover from the Silver Bow Creek cleanup (estimated at $35 million) for restoration projects in priority injured areas including Butte Area One, Silver Bow Creek, Anaconda Uplands, Dutchman, and the Clark fork River; and
  • Fund only recreational projects with a restoration benefit in priority injured areas.

The NRDP Advisory Council also recommended that two recent prioritization studies of the Clark Fork basin's aquatic and terrestrial resources serve as the basis for making decisions in grant-making on future restoration projects.

The two reports were released jointly by the NRDP and the Montana Dept. of Fish, Wildlife and Parks. One plan ranked the upper Clark Fork River tributaries to meet fishery goals while the second mapped wildlife priority areas in the 2.3 million acre upper watershed.

The public comment period on the Long Range Plan had just ended, but will be taken up again by the Advisory Council on Dec. 15, and then again by the NRDP Trustees on Dec. 21 before being sent to the Governor's Office for final review. Public comment will be taken at both of these meetings.

For more on the plan, check out these CFRTAC fact sheets on the  Long Range Guidance Plan and the  NRD Program itself.

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