The project at the Intake Dam has been stopped.
Over the last several years, the US Army Corp of Engineers and the US Bureau of Reclamation have (in partnership with Dawson County area leaders, members of the Lower Yellowstone Irrigation District, the Chamber of Commerce Caviar Project, and Fish, Wildlife, and Parks) worked to tear down the historic dam at Intake and replace it with a rock-ramp dam to allow the endangered pallid sturgeon to pass through. Last year the project was funded for approximately $17.8 million dollars to Ames Construction Inc. from Aurora, Colorado and ground was broken last fall with an elaborate ceremony flying in executives and political leaders from around the country for the 20 minute event.
In a memo sent to government stakeholders last Friday, the Bureau of Reclamation said “During the design, modeling and cost estimate development for the new Intake weir and rock ramp, the cost of the passage project has increased substantially. The reasons being 1) a sizeable increase in rock needed to meet fish passage velocities due to increased detail in the ramp, 2) rock costs have doubled since the initial estimate, and 3) previously unidentified constructability issues. The current estimated cost for the rock ramp (as modeled) and headworks is exceeding $100 million and is outside the current Corps budget for the project.”
The Bureau of Reclamation held a meeting on January 26 in Billings to evaluate options which will include a rock ramp alternative, revisiting fisheries criteria, and other alternatives, such as a bypass channel, for further conceptual design. The meeting was not publicized to the public in eastern Montana.
Also in the memo, Justin Kurcera from the Bureau of Reclamation told the stake holders “…Construction on the fish passage will not begin this fall.”
One official speaking off the record because they did not have the authority to represent their agency said that the big questions at this point are what will happen to ensure the headwaters are completed in order to ensure irrigators get needed water and if the ramp is able to be shortened or averted if there will be any benefit to the pallid sturgeon which was the goal of the project.
Monique Farmer, spokesperson for the US Army Corp of engineers said her agency will provide clarification however due to the storm in the mid-west they were not available for comment by press time. She did say that the Corp will make a public statement in the next few days. The Corp has been asked to specifically address irrigator concerns.
Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks, the agency that operates the fishing access site at Intake, is expected to also make a statement in the next few days.