Seven months after a public meeting was held in Havre to hear comments on reopening the spillway at Fresno Dam for fishing and other recreation, a representative of the Bureau of Reclamation said the federal agency that oversees operations of the dam west of Havre is still considering its options.
“Right now, we are working through a number of options that we are hopeful will be compatible with both our internal safety and security procedures and also allow for potentially some additional fishing access below the dam but no decision has been made yet, ” BOR Marias-Milk River Division Manager Mike LaFrentz said Friday.
Kent Gilge, retired Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks fisheries biologist, avid fisherman and advocate for opening access at the spillway, said Friday that he is pleased BOR seems to be leaning toward opening access to the site, but that there is no reason for a delay.
“I would just say that, by now, there is no reason why they could not make a decision, ” Gilge said.
The spillway below the dam had been a popular fishing spot since Fresno was completed in the 1930s. The dam was built to provide flood control and water storage for irrigation, but has been a popular site for recreation through the decades.
Following the terrorist attacks on the United States Sept. 11, 2001, access to the spillway was restricted.
During a July public meeting on the issue in Havre, BOR reprepresentatives said the main concerns today are not so much terrorism as safety and security.
The representatives said one major concern is safety of people, especially children, at the spillway. Another is damage to the site, such as through vandalism or people throwing items into the stilling pool below the dam.
LaFrentz said Friday there is no timeline set in stone for when a decision would be made. The bureau has put out a request for bids on fencing that could be used if access is restored, mainly to get a price on such a project.
“I want to gather some information on cost estimates … depending on potential fence placements, it could have a significant impact on costs, ” he said. “We’re very much in a scoping stage and just basically looking at all the various options in great detail. ”
At the July meeting, only one — a Great Falls newspaper reporter covering the event — of the more-than 50 people who attended spoke against increasing access to the site. The others told BOR officials that the site had been fished safely for decades and argued that increasing the number of people fishing and recreating there would reduce the chance for vandalism and other damage.
Gilge presented a proposal at that meeting to move the access 50 yards closer to the dam, to the end of the concrete wing walls below the dam.
He said Friday that proponents of increasing the access have covered all of the bases on BOR’s concerns about safety and security.
“I think that we’ve covered all their concerns, ” Gilge said.
LaFrentz said that BOR is very interested in looking at ways to increase access, but all issues have to be considered very closely.
“Basically, we’ve got to go through and make sure that if we do increase the fishing access that it will be compatible with safety and security considerations, ” he said.