Clearwater River: Commissioners support state’s removal of Elbow Lake Dam

The Elbow Lake Dam. Photo taken last July by Brian Browning.

After delaying action two weeks ago to consider the concerns of lakeside residents, Missoula County commissioners voted Tuesday to support the state’s removal of an illegal dam on Elbow Lake, on the Clearwater River south of Seeley Lake.

“People living along the lake are understandably upset about this,” said County Commission Chairman Dave Strohmaier. “We understand they purchased homes along a lake, not a river, and we empathize with them. But the dam was put in illegally, and they do not have the required water rights needed to authorize a dam.” 

The commissioners postponed the decision during an Oct. 16 meeting, during which Elbow Lake residents Greg Browning and his brother Brian Browning voiced opposition.

“We purchased our cabin because it was our lifelong dream to have a place on a lake,” Greg Browning said. “If this dam is removed, the lake will become a river, wetlands will be affected, the area will be drastically altered, and it will have impacts on property owners as well as other wildlife.” 

But after conferring with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks and the Department of Natural Resources, the commissioners agreed to support the proposal. 

Brian Browning (left) and his brother Greg Browning, who own a cabin on Elbow Lake, expressed their concerns about a proposal to remove the Elbow Lake dam. (Dave Stalling/Missoula Current)

“This is a Fish, Wildlife and Parks issue, not a county issue,” County Commissioner Josh Slotnick said. “But considering the lack of water rights and the illegal construction of a dam, we support their proposal.”   

Montana FWP and DNRC are accepting comments on a draft environmental assessment of the dam’s removal through 5 p.m. Tuesday. The project is expected to cost $3,000 to $5,000, which would be covered by the state agencies. 

The assessment states that the goals of the project are to: “Restore the site to its approximate historic natural condition and elevation; alleviate ongoing violations of state and federal regulations on state trust property; restore natural streambed conditions on the river in the vicinity of the dam; eliminate the dam that acts as a partial barrier to the natural movement of fish and recreationists, and reduce the probability of continued violations at the site.”

To see the draft environmental assessment, click here: http://fwp.mt.gov/news/publicNotices/environmentalAssessments/restorationAndRehab/pn_0174.html

Contact reporter Dave Stalling at: dstalling@missoulacurrent.com