Mike Bader, Alliance for the Wild Rockies, (406) 721-5420
Steve Kelly, Friends of the Wild Swan, (406) 582-0998
Tracy Stone-Manning, Clark Fork Coalition, (406) 542-0539
MISSOULA—Three conservation organizations who secured a temporary restraining order (TRO) to halt a trench digging operation across the Clark Fork River announced they have reached an out of court settlement with the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and the Yellowstone Pipeline Company (YPL).
Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Friends of the Wild Swan and the Clark Fork-Pend Oreille Coalition settled their pending lawsuit against DEQ and YPL with an agreement that the Montana Environmental Policy Act (MEPA) applies to the proposed project and that DEQ will prepare an Environmental Assessment with full public involvement including a public comment period and a public hearing.
“This is a very important victory for our public environmental policy process in Montana,” said Mike Bader, executive director of Alliance for the Wild Rockies. “This agreement ensures that this project will undergo full environmental impacts review, including potential threats to one of Montana’s remaining populations of the threatened bull trout.”
According to Tracy Stone-Manning, executive director of the Clark Fork Coalition, “Now the public gets to insist on state-of-the-art safety measures that will protect the Clark Fork River from petroleum spills.”
“The settlement agreement has restored the most important aspect of Montana’s environmental policy: public participation,” said Steve Kelly, President of Friends of the Wild Swan. “Now that we have a fair review process, there is a chance safer alternatives will be fully considered and implemented.”
The Yellowstone Pipeline Company had secured permits from DEQ to dig a wet trench across the width of the Clark Fork River near Turah Bridge east of Missoula to replace a section of aging pipeline underneath the river bed. Due to scouring of the streambed during spring runoff events, one section of pipeline is now just beneath the streambed and is susceptible to potential exposure and rupture. However, the groups sought and obtained a TRO to halt the project, claiming DEQ violated proper procedure by failing to prepare an environmental impact study as required by MEPA.
Under the settlement agreement, DEQ now agrees that MEPA does apply, and that an Environmental Assessment must be prepared. A public comment period will begin no later than December 3rd, and DEQ will advertise the details on the public comment hearing.
“This settlement helps ensure that our state agencies will not attempt shortcuts to the proper review procedures for substantial projects that may affect Montana’s natural resources, including water quality and native fish populations,” added Bader.