By Patrick Winderl
The Montana Legislature has turned down a request for money to repair the lower Beaver Creek Dam.
A grant application from the Hill County Commission that sought $400,000 for repairs failed to get the necessary support this session, Commissioner Pat Conway said Monday.
Bear Paw Development Corp. submitted the grant application to the state Department Natural Resources and Conservation in May after engineers found several areas of the dam that need to be upgraded or repaired, Conway said.
The department then ranked the project against similar ones and submitted its ranking to the Legislature, County Commissioner Doug Kaercher said. The long-range planning subcommittee of the Joint Appropriations Committee made the final decision on what projects would be funded, he said.
"There was a limited amount of money available for projects like this," he said. "The DNRC did not rank our project high enough on the list to be funded, and we did not make it."
The problem now is finding alternative funding to make the repairs, County Commissioner Kathy Bessette said.
"It's the same old story you see in every city in every county in every state," she said. "We are in a recession. There is just not enough money to go around."
The commissioners said they are at odds with federal authorities over the engineers' recommendations. The Natural Resources Conservation Service has not supported the funding of repairs based on the engineers' assessment, Conway said.
The engineering firm, HKM of Billings, recommended that the water flow control system of the dam be replaced with a new design, a move that has been blocked by the conservation service, Conway said.
"Questions arose as to the cost efficiency of such a repair," Conway said. "The NRCS has been at the table through the entire process, and they have been reluctant to support the proposal."
The Natural Resources Conservation Service has final authority over any repairs to the dam, and the agency has proposed replacing the water flow control system with an installation similar to the one already in place, Bessette said.
The water flow is controlled by two guardian gates, which are adjusted with a hydraulic hand pump. One of the gates leaks water at a rate of 2.7 cubic feet a second, Conway said.
HKM recommended replacing the gate with a fixed cone structure, a proposal that has been staunchly opposed by the conservation service, he added.
The agency's position probably contributed to the Legislature's decision not to award the grant, Bessette said.
In anticipation of the grant's denial, the commissioners have approved temporary solutions to the leaking flood gate. The county purchased a gas-powered hydraulic pump to replace the hand pump. The county will also use sealant to slow the leak until funding can be secured for permanent repairs.
"In addition to the water lost, the leak also contributes to the gradual deterioration of the structure," Conway said. "It's like a car. You have to do maintenance or it doesn't work properly. It's time to do the maintenance, but where do we get the money?"