Guest Editorial: Viewshed the same one Lewis & Clark enjoyed

Northwestern Energy's proposed MSTI transmission line would include fourteen-story tall transmission towers along the Jefferson River segment of the Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail

“It is easy to follow the Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail through southwest Montana: Just follow the fourteen-story tall high-voltage transmission towers.”

That is how we can promote local tourism if the Montana Department of Environmental Quality approves NorthWestern Energy’s proposed Mountain States Transmission Intertie (MSTI) through the Jefferson Valley. The transmission line is proposed for the purpose of exporting electricity to out-of-state buyers at the expense of Montanans who have to live with the monstrosity.

The Jefferson River is part of the Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail, established by Congress in 1978. “It is the mission of the National Park Service to preserve the remnants of the historic route of 1804-1806 Corps of Discovery Expedition located along the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail,” according to the www.nps.gov/lecl website.

In essence, the LCNHT can be thought of as a long, skinny national park–but without any federal protection. The Jefferson River segment of the LCNHT is significant, in that Lewis and Clark named the river in honor of the president who initiated their expedition to explore the Missouri headwaters and search for a navigable route to the Pacific.

Most of the Jefferson River runs through private land, and the entire length of the river is already threatened by encroaching development. Yet amazingly, when you get into a canoe and experience the river from the viewpoint of Lewis and Clark, you discover how much the viewshed remains intact from the river. Most of the existing development is far enough back from the river that you only experience the cottonwood ecology along the river, against a backdrop of undeveloped mountains in the distance.

Although MSTI’s fourteen-story tall steel towers would be largely built away from the river, the towers will be glaringly visible from the river and throughout the Jefferson Valley.

This transmission line is not being proposed to serve the people of Montana, nor is there anything remotely “green” about this kind of industrial development. MSTI will create only about 50 temporary jobs in the state of Montana, but it will be a permanent scar on our landscape and our tourism industry. There is only one purpose behind MSTI, and that is corporate greed. Do we really want to turn our homeland into an industrial wasteland to make NorthWestern Energy look good on Wall Street?

Unfortunately, the National Park Service lacks any jurisdiction to say “No” to this absurd proposal. It is up to the people of Montana to protect ourselves and the Jefferson River segment of the LCNHT from desecration by NorthWestern Energy. NWE is a relative newcomer to this state, and the company has made it clear that they are not here to serve Montanans but to exploit us for profit. Montanans will pay for this transmission line, if not in higher utility bills, then definitely in lost tourism dollars and a devalued landscape.

We are blessed with an incredible quality of life here in the Jefferson Valley. If we are to preserve our quality of life for future generations, then we must begin by preserving our past. The bottom line is that MSTI is a threat to our past and our future. NorthWestern Energy doesn’t belong here if the company is going to trample over the people of Montana.

Thomas J. Elpel is president of the Jefferson River Canoe Trail Chapter of the Lewis & Clark Trail Heritage Foundation (www.JeffersonRiver.org). This guest editorial was published in the Montana Standard on June 25th, 2010.

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