Members of the public wait in line during the public comment time during the Columbia River Treaty Meeting held in Kalispell, Mont. last Wednesday, March 20. Photo courtesy of Lincoln County Commissioner, Jerry Bennett
By McKenzie Williams
On Wednesday, March 20, many Lincoln County residents attended the Columbia River Treaty Negotiations (CRT) meeting held in Kalispell, Mont. at the Red Lion.
Lincoln County Commissioner, Jerry Bennet said in an email to The Montanian, “There were probably over 50 Lincoln County residents who made the journey to Kalispell by bus or their own vehicle, a great turnout.”
A great turnout was the goal, according to Senator (SD1) Mike Cuffe who has been working hard to influence the CRT negotiations for a number of years now. He has been attempting to ensure that Lincoln County’s and Montana’s interests are both understood and supported by the U.S. Government’s negotiating team, and good attendance at the meeting helped to support his efforts by showing that Cuffe’s goals are backed by Lincoln County residents. To this end, the County provided interested locals with a free shuttle to the meeting in Kalispell on a first come, first serve basis.
During the meeting, federal officials gave the attendees an overview of the Columbia River Treaty and negotiations with Canada. Negotiators were also available for questions during the meeting.
For a couple of years, officials from the U.S. and Canada have met to discuss ways to modernize the CRT which was first signed in 1964, and governs the operations of dams and reservoirs in one of North America’s largest river systems.
Two main issues are at stake including possible permissible diversion of a significant amount of water from the Kootenai River which Cuffe would like to end. The other issue involves the four large dams that were build as part of the CRT, including Libby Dam. Cuffe would like to see Lincoln County and the state of Montana benefit from the dam financially as part of the CRT, similar to how Canada benefits from the three dams built on their side of the border.
Bennet said, “I simply would like to say Thank you to Senator Cuffe for his selfless devotion to Lincoln County and its residents on the issue of the Columbia River Treaty. I would also like to recognize all of the County residents who ventured to Kalispell to support Mike and the County’s interests in the treaty’s negotiation. As Commissioners we will trust that Jill Smial Chief Negotiator will represent our interests fairly, as she has heard them on several occasions. I would like to commend Jill for the openness and access we have had during the process so far. We will continue to engage, and see this through to a just and balanced treaty for all on both sides of the border.”