Lincoln County’s voice gets heard on Columbia River Treaty

Submitted by

Mike Cuffe


“We took our story of Columbia River Treaty (CRT) to the top, and we told it loud and clear,” reports Representative Mike Cuffe of Montana House District 2. “July 25 was an ‘Epic Day’ for CRT presentations at the 2018 PNWER Summit at Spokane, and we scored a big coup,” he continues.

PNWER stands for Pacific Northwest Economic Region, and PNWER Vice President Cuffe was able to arrange a private breakfast meeting with Lead Negotiator Jill Smail, of the U.S. Dept of State during the PNWER Summit. Also present, were Lincoln County Commissioners Mike Cole, Mark Peck, Jerry Bennett, and Kalispell Senator Keith Regier.

Discussions with Smail centered on proposed compensation to Montana for flooding the Kootenai Valley and on the request to eliminate the possibility of Canada diverting 26 percent of the Kootenai River’s flow away from Libby Dam into the Columbia River at Canal Flats, BC.

After breakfast, Negotiator Smail and her counterpart from Global Affairs Canada, Sylvain Fabi, described CRT negotiations to a large Summit working group.

Their second negotiating session will be held in mid-August, and the U.S. team will hold a second Town Hall meeting in September.

Negotiators listened to concerns from stakeholders including tribes, irrigators, navigators, and local governments.

The Stakeholder meeting included presentations from each Lincoln County commissioner, with Regier and Cuffe on the Legislative Panel. Regier, former House Majority Leader, described 2015 legislation and a resolution from the 2018 Republican Platform Convention supporting compensation to Montana and elimination of the potential river diversion.

Lincoln County’s story was also told via a video based on a nostalgic radio production made in 1969 by Cuffe, then a University of Montana journalism senior. It was based on interviews with the last residents being moved out of old Rexford during Libby Dam’s construction. Heather Dunn, Eureka teacher, added photos and images to create the video. It played continuously at the Lincoln County table during the event, and during CRT bus tours.

In addition to the PNWER Summit, Cuffe, Bennett and Representative Steve Gunderson of House District 1, were at The White House on July 19 where Cuffe raised CRT concerns with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke as well as with White House staff who relayed concerns to the U.S. Dept. of State and the Army Corps of Engineers. At that time, Bennett also visited Jill Smail.

“We definitely have been heard, and they take our requests seriously,” Cuffe said. “Columbia River Treaty negotiators told me that. It is time to step back and let them do their work. Trust they will do their best for us.”

Also during the Summit, Cuffe co-chaired working group sessions on Trade and Border Issues, Mark Peck co-chaired the Forestry Issues working group, Kalispell Reprsentative Matt Regier described Montana Aquatic Invasive Species efforts in a working group co-chaired by Kate Wilson from Montana DNRC, and Christian Baxter of Teck Coal described innovative efforts to reduce selenium levels entering Lake Koocanusa from mines above Fernie, BC.

PNWER is made up of legislators from five provinces and five states with a cross border focus on economic issues.