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By Arren Kimbel-Sannit, Daily Montanan

Orgs: NorthWestern should pay for investigation into ecological impact

A group of Montana environmental organizations is calling for an outside, independent investigation into the ecological impacts of a gate failure at Hebgen Dam in November that resulted in plummeting water levels in a stretch of the upper Madison River, stranding some fish to die and dewatering spawning areas.

Upper Missouri Waterkeeper, the Montana Environmental Information Center and the Madison River Foundation filed a citizens’ complaint Wednesday asking the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to require that dam operator NorthWestern Energy pay for a third-party study into the impacts of the dewatering on “aquatic resources” downstream, and guided by the results of that analysis, administer a fund to restore affected habitat and provide financial assistance to affected community and business interests. Any entity, under federal law, can complain of a violation by a licensed utility.

“We’re looking for a formal process where everyone has a seat at the table —  NorthWestern, federal and state agencies, and affected stakeholders,” said Guy Alsentzer, executive director of Upper Missouri Waterkeeper. “And we’re asking NorthWestern to pay the cost to make downstream communities whole again.”

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