Three rivers in Montana are expected to have temporary closures this summer.
The Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission decided on Thursday that for safety reasons, they would not allow floaters or swimmers on the Blackfoot River near Bonner and on the Yellowstone River near Livingston. A section of the Clark Fork River bank, where remediation work took place after the removal of the Milltown Dam, is off-limits while vegetation is established.
Commission members said they don’t want to close sections of the rivers, but after hearing a report on the reasons from FWP staffers and the Montana Department of Transportation, they decided it would be prudent on the Yellowstone and Blackfoot. Public comments will be taken on all of the proposed closures.
Chas Van Genderen, Parks Division administrator, said people are anxious to use the Blackfoot and Clark Fork rivers, where sections were closed while the Milltown Dam was removed. But piers in the river and industrial waste from the Bonner Dam — including saws blades and sinker logs that occasionally pop to the surface — are creating a hazard.
“The Whitewater Rescue Institute floated a dummy through there and the dummy didn’t resurface,” Van Genderen said. “Until we get a better feel for the true nature of the hazard, we’re asking to keep it closed from the weigh station to the confluence” with the Clark Fork.
He added that while they have funding to clean up the debris, the bridge abutment presents “much more of a challenge.”
“Do we keep it closed entirely or allow people to take a risk?” Van Genderen asked. “Do we do seasonal closures? It’s not black and white.”
Under the proposal, that stretch of the Blackfoot River will be open to fly fishing.
The Clark Fork also would be open to anglers, but signs will show where they need to stay off of the river banks until the vegetation takes root.
The Yellowstone River closure also is due to bridge piers in the water. Charlie Sperry, a FWP recreation management specialist, said the Montana Department of Transportation has a contractor installing the bridge and has a 60-foot-wide opening for navigational purposes.
But after two boats wrapped around the piers last year, MDT asked FWP to look into the popular fishing stretch in December.
“Because of the direction the river flows and the hydraulics around the bridge piers, MDT was concerned about public safety,” Sperry said. “We did a site inspection and came to the same conclusion.
“ … I emphasize this is serious action for us to close a river and we take that seriously. This is a very popular section of the river for fishing, used both by outfitters and private citizens. It will be important to get this section open as soon as possible.”
Commissioner Dan Vermillion initiated an emergency 12-mile closure from Mayor’s Landing Fishing Access Site to the Highway 89 Bridge. By law, however, the emergency closure can only last 120 days and the closure will expire in April.
Under the new closure, only 1,000 feet on the river would be closed in the area of the new bridge at Park Street. The problem, Vermillion noted, is that there’s no public access along that stretch beyond the bridge.
“This is an important section to people in this part of the state,” Vermillion said. “It’s possible somebody will let someone launch, but by and large we’re closed 15 miles to floating.”
Paul Cogley, the MDT project manager for the bridge, said they hope to have the old structure out by the end of March, and the most dangerous section is set to be out by mid May.
“Then we will see if we have safe passage,” Cogley said. “We’ll ask FWP for guidance as to whether people can float then.”
A public meeting will be held in Livingston to discuss the possible closure.
Reporter Eve Byron: 447-4076 or email@example.com
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