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Almost A Big Blackfoot Dam at Belmont

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Almost A Big Blackfoot Dam at Belmont

Few Missoulians knew about any plans to dam the Blackfoot River, but they got the startling news full bore from the Daily Missoulian on Sunday, July 8, 1956,  in a half page article. The story was accompanied by a large drawing of the proposed dam near Nine Mile Prairie, not far from the little berg of Greenough, Montana. The drawing delineated the area to be affected with some detail, starting with a small slash labeled D.S., drawn across the river near what was described in the article as Belmont Creek. The Blackfoot canyon narrows quickly at Belmont creek. Directly upriver from the D.S., the drawing showed a checkered area that represented the probable area that the water behind the dam would cover.

The article stated that Missoula would be the site for a hearing on the proposed dam the next day. The U. S. Army Corp of Engineers, represented by Brig. General Louis Foote, would present its proposals publicly at the Florence Hotel for interested citizens. Notice of the meeting had been sent to a number of officials and organizations who represented the business community. The Missoula Chamber of Commerce also had recently sponsored a meeting on the topic. Following the dam meeting in Missoula there would be 4 other public meetings in various cities to discuss other proposed dam projects in the Northwest. For Montanans the most notable of these was the Libby dam project and 4 other prospective projects in Western Montana.

That the time was ripe for projects like this was demonstrated in the Missoulian on the following Monday with a large photo of a huge blast cloud of rock at the Noxon Rapids dam site. Montana Governor Aaronson and other officials were gathered there to mark the beginning of construction of the new Noxon dam which was hailed for the “pioneering spirit” which built it. Washington Water Power officials also praised the project, yet lamented their firm “would still be short of power.” Governor Aaronson stated his belief that “It has always been private capital that energized progress and is the basis for prosperity.”[1] Official statements were made extolling the increase of local jobs and local taxes but they also noted there would be a “long fight ahead before the [Columbia] compact was accepted by all the states involved.”

What was the reaction in Missoula?

Members of a citizen’s committee of the Missoula Chamber of Commerce took a poll that showed they were for the dam, 60 to 40. Hence, the chamber went on record as pro dam, although “less than half of the members voted,” according to a Missoulian article. However, Jack Hoon, a member of the chamber’s board of directors, presented a petition against the dam that was signed by 1,529 people. In addition, he stated “the detrimental effects of the dam are evident.” After listing several factors he felt were negative, Hoon also asked that “this economically unsound project be dropped from consideration.” Several other officials expressed a tepid endorsement of the project.

Charles Hazen of the Bureau of Reclamation in Spokane presented some statistics that indicated the Bureau had looked at the project seriously. The Missoulian article quoted him as follows:

“The dam would be an earth-filled structure about 400 feet high. It would provide a gross storage of 1,230,000 acre-feet and a usable storage of 960,000 acre-feet. The dam would have a top elevation of 3,855. Full pool would be at elevation 3,840. Two turbines would be installed in a power-house located on the right bank about 100 feet downstream from the toe of the dam. These two turbines would have generators rated at 37,000 kilowatts each. He said the project would provide about 28,500 kilowatts of at-site firm power and a potential of 114,000 kilowatts of downstream power. . .

“The reservoir would inundate 13,400 acres of a broad valley, which is principally privately owned range lands interspersed with a few farms producing hay in connection with stock raising. The project would require relocating 19 miles of the Milwaukee Railroad log haul spur line, 14 miles of state highway and about 14 miles of telephone lines. Total construction cost is estimated at $60,000,000.”

A Missoulian article the following Monday stated that one local organization was against the dam. The Lumber and Sawmill Worker Union in Bonner went on the record as “unanimously opposing the proposed Nine Mile Prairie dam.”

“President Anton Iverson of the local said his organization opposes the dam on the grounds that ‘it would adversely affect one of the best fishing streams in the area and eliminate one of the finest recreational areas in the state, whose monetary value is inestimable.’

“He added that most of the members of Local 3038 have lived in the region most of their lives and feel the recreational value and beauty of the Blackfoot Valley should be preserved as is.”

Missoulian sports reporter Ray Rocene had notified readers of the meeting on the proposed dam in his column on Sunday, July 8. He didn’t quite say, “I wish you would protest.”

Here’s what he did say:

“Blackfoot anglers wishing to protest the Nine Mile Prairie dam proposed to be located in the Belmont Creek area of the Blackfoot will have their opportunity at the Monday hearing here. If they are interested, it is their project to speak up now. It is entirely a matter of profit and loss on two different sides.”

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[1] This despite the fact that he had just requested that the Federal Government declare 4 Montana counties as disaster areas.