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At Fresno, can fishing trump terrorism?

Havre Daily News/Nikki Carlson

In this May 9 photograph, a U.S. Bureau of Reclamation sign cautions anglers to not fish any closer to the Fresno Dam at the Fresno Reservoir. Fishing near the dam, a prime location for catching walleye, was restricted by the bureau after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

The U. S. Bureau of Reclamation has agreed to listen to local comments on its restriction of access below Fresno Dam west of Havre, with a public meeting slated for next Tuesday evening in Havre.

BOR and Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., announced the meeting Tuesday.

Cliff Plum, president of the Fresno Chapter of Walleyes Unlimited, said this morning that the driving force behind getting the Fresno spillway, closed to public access after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, opened again has been local fisherman and retired Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks fish biologist Kent Gilge.

Gilge could not be reached for comment this morning.

Plum said the Fresno Chapter of Walleyes is fully behind Gilge's efforts to get access to the spillway re-opened.

The spot below the dam is an excellent spot to catch walleyes, Northern pike and perch, he said.

"It is the best. The Fresno Chapter of Walleyes is standing behind (Gilge) a hundred percent, " he said. "Most all of us have fished that area, and we'd love to get back in there and fish it again. "

The press release Tester's office sent out announcing next Tuesday's meeting said BOR told the senator that the meeting is a direct result of a letter he sent to the bureau in April urging them to reassess the situation and to hold a public meeting.

"I appreciate the need to protect our nation's critical infrastructure, but ensuring public access to land and waterways for sportsmen is very important to protect Montana's economic vitality and rich outdoor tradition …, " Tester wrote to BOR Commissioner Michael Connor. "I understand that the Bureau of Reclamation … will lead Fresno Dam through a comprehensive security review later in the year. During this review, I expect BOR to reassess its current security policy and urge them to seek solutions that protect this facility while allowing anglers and sportsmen to regain access to this area.

In letters to BOR officials Gilge provided to the Havre Daily, he said he understood the move to protect the nation's infrastructure following the terrorist attacks, but closing the Fresno spillway "is a totally unnecessary closure at this time and really does nothing except impede fishermen from a fishing hole they enjoyed for over 60 years without incident or problem. "

He wrote that he represents "a large contingent of disgruntled (that's the mild term) fishermen who only desire to see the downstream fence moved up to the concrete wing walls so they can cast into the stilling basin. This would still provide a 150-200 foot buffer from the dam.

"As our freedoms gradually erode in this country, I hope you will do your best to assess things in a rational way and restore at least one simple freedom back to the fishermen who do not deserve to be treated like terrorists, " he concluded in a letter dated Jan. 11.

The public meeting is set to start at 6:30 p. m. Tuesday in the Olympic Room of the Duck Inn, 1300 1st St. in Havre.


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