Tag Archives: Jefferson River

Building a National Park

The Jefferson River is an essential segment of the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail.

The Jefferson River is an essential segment of the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail.

“Let’s make a national park, Dad.” my son Edwin used to tell me. He participated in junior ranger programs at many national parks. Creating our own park was apparently the next step in the process. Now, as president of the Jefferson River Canoe Trail, that is essentially the focus of my work.

In two dimensions at least, the Jefferson River is already a national park. Named by Lewis and Clark for our third President, the Jefferson River is an essential segment of the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail (L&CNHT), administered by the National Park Service. However, as a trail, it is a park with length, but not width. The Jefferson River is part of the national historic trail, yet there is no formal protection for the river. Much of the Jefferson is threatened by development, and camping opportunities are limited.

From the perspective of a floater on the river, the Jefferson retains much of its original character from the days of Lewis and Clark.

From the perspective of a floater on the river, the Jefferson retains much of its original character from the days of Lewis and Clark.

Most of the Jefferson flows through private lands. The area is sliced and diced by fences, roads, and development. Yet, from the perspective of a floater on the river, the Jefferson retains much of its original character from the days of Lewis and Clark. The rich riparian corridor supports everything from deer and moose to beavers, otters, blue herons, bald eagles, and sometimes bears. Viewed from a boat, paddlers see the trees and wildlife in the foreground and the mountains in the background, oblivious to most development along the way.

Our organization, a chapter of the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation, is working to educate landowners about conservation easements and sensible development choices to preserve the historic character of the river for the enjoyment of all. We are also seeking land for public floater’s camps along the river, and we recently purchased land for a 4.37-acre campsite on the lower Jefferson, near the town of Three Forks, Montana. The goal is not actually to create a national park, but to appreciate and steward our backyard as if it were a national park.

We recently purchased a 4.37-acre campsite on the lower Jefferson.

We recently purchased a 4.37-acre campsite on the lower Jefferson.

We’ve only seen the beginning of the population surge in this area. Now is our last best chance to conserve the Jefferson River for future generations. Do nothing, and the river will be degraded by inappropriate housing developments, riprap along the banks, and “no trespassing” signs from one end to the other. To make a difference, please contribute to our campsite development or go to www.JeffersonRiver.org and sign up for our email discussion group.

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Thomas J. Elpel
April 13, 2014
Updated September 28, 2014

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Déjà vu: NorthWestern Energy’s Risky Investment

NorthWestern Energy's actions resemble those that destroyed the Montana Power Company

“For nearly 90 years, the Montana Power Company exemplified the very best of American capitalism. It provided cheap, reliable electricity for the people of Montana, excellent benefits for thousands of employees and generous, reliable dividends for its stockholders.”

So begins the narrative from the 2003 CBS News/60 Minutes expose, Who Killed Montana Power? Reading the narrative online, it is difficult to shake the sense of déjà vu, that we are witnessing the same tragic story all over again, through NorthWestern Energy’s risky investment in the proposed Mountain States Transmission Intertie (MSTI).

Quoting again from the 60 Minutes report, “Everyone was happy, except for the corporate officers and their Wall Street investment banking firm who decided there was more money to be made in the more glamorous and profitable world of telecommunications. The result exemplified the worst of American capitalism… [The demise of Montana Power] may not be the biggest scandal of our time, but to its stockholders, it shows how greed and outright stupidity destroyed one of the oldest and proudest companies in America.”

In parallel with Montana Power, NorthWestern Energy is betting the company on a risky investment that offers nothing for its customer base here in Montana. MSTI’s sole purpose is to satisfy corporate greed by exporting electricity from Montana to potential customers in Las Vegas and southern California. MSTI will not provide electricity to Montanans. It will not provide jobs for Montanans. And there is nothing green about industrializing the Montana landscape with fourteen-story tall transmission towers. What MSTI will do is give out-of-state customers the opportunity to bid against Montanans for our hydroelectric, wind, and coal-fired electricity, driving up rates instate.

In the pursuit of profit, NorthWestern Energy is openly waging war against Montanans, trying to ramrod this monstrosity across farms and ranches and right through some of our most scenic valleys. NorthWestern lobbyists pressured state legislators into passing HB 198, giving corporations the power of eminent domain. It enables companies like NorthWestern to take private property for profit-making ventures. But what kind of a company wages war on its own customers?

Quoting again from the 60 Minutes expose, Montana Power “was going to join the dot.com revolution by transforming itself into a high-tech telecommunications company called Touch America. The decision was made on the advice of its New York investment banker, Goldman Sachs, without consulting the stockholders.”

Montana Power lobbied the legislature to push through a bill that deregulated the price of electricity, and opened the markets up to competition – even though Montana had some of the lowest utility rates in the country. Deregulation inflated the value of Montana Power, at which point the company began selling off its assets to invest in Touch America, following the advice of Goldman Sachs. The result was that, “Electricity prices in Montana doubled, then redoubled, and doubled again – refineries, lumber mills, and the last working copper mine in Butte was forced to suspend operations because they couldn’t afford their electricity bills.”

Any corporation that wages war on its own customers in the pursuit of profit is at risk of implosion. Good investing begins here at home, not on market speculation. We lost a great power company when the executives at Montana Power got greedy. It is unfortunate to see NorthWestern Energy following the same path, gambling on risky investments at the expense of its customer base. It is going to take a long time for NorthWestern to heal these wounds. The company could start by canceling MSTI and offering a big apology for its actions.

Thomas J. Elpel is president of the Jefferson River Canoe Trail Chapter of the Lewis & Clark Trail Heritage Foundation (www.JeffersonRiver.org), PO Box 697, Pony, MT 59747. This guest editorial was published in The Madisonian September 22, 2011.

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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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