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A Shameful Act…..

With the publication of the FEIS, 2/3/2007, we have the absurd situation that one governmental agency, RUS, of the USDA is financing the destruction of the Great Falls Portage National Historic Landmark and a portion of the Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail while another one, the National Park Service, USDI, is charged with its protection, restoration, and preservation. It is indeed difficult to perceive that this document approves the deliberately destruction of its “landscape integrity.” However, it was the shameful behavior by our local government officials, Great Falls City Commissioners and Cascade County Commissioners, initiating this project in the name of economic development.

Since the passing of the 1906 Antiquities Act, the 1966 Historic Preservation Act, and subsequent federal and state agencies as well as many individuals have worked diligently to preserve and protect historic sites precious to our national heritage. The Great Falls Portage route is one of such sites. In 1966, the Great Falls Portage route was placed on the National Register of Historic Places by a local group of citizens. The parents of the current landowner, Charles and Stella Urquhart were so kind to donate some of their land to the Boy Scouts of America, and they wrote a special note on the deed stating that “….a condition of this conveyance that the site remain forever undeveloped, unchanged by man in any fashion, and that it remain in its natural state into perpetuity.” (Quoted from the deed which donated the small parcel of land to the Boy Scouts of America and signed by Charles and Stella Urquhart, 1966). Since then many citizens, local, state, and national, have made active contributions to protect, restore, and maintain the Lewis and Clark sites; in fact, from our early history to the present Cascade County and Great Falls residents have been proud of the Lewis and Clark heritage.

In 1978 amendment to the National Historic Trail System Act established the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail along the outbound and return routes of the Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1804-06. Under the latter law, the National Park Service (NPS) administers the Trail and has as its purpose the identification and protection of the historic route and its historic remnants and artifacts for public enjoyment. As an administrative unit of the NPS that extends the protection of the Organic Act (1916, as amended) to the Trail, specifically the charge to “conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wildlife therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.” (See letter Stewart, NPS, to Mark Plank, RUS, 09/11/2007).

Since the beginning of the twentieth century, 1900, this nation has protected, preserved, and restored many historic sites important to our national heritage. This means that historic structures of a wide variety, artifacts found on top and below the surface, and the landscape integrity of some historic sites such as battlefields. In the latter it is the date of the event, the battle, which is important. In the case the Great Falls Portage route, it is what the explorers saw when they climbed out of Belt Creek onto the Highwood plateau. Currently there is a landmark site commemorating an imposing view of the landscape. One can experience the view of an uninterrupted expanse of landscape: the Highwoods to the east, the Little Belts to the south, and at that time one could hear the water spill over the dams and see its haze of evaporation, and then to the west experience an imposing view of the great prairie, or grass lands. This is the “landscape’ integrity experienced by Lewis and Clark two hundred years earlier.

This is the reason that the “landscape integrity” of this national landmark cannot be mitigated as Mr. Stewart, NPS, wrote in his letter to Mark Plank, 09/11/06. The Montana Preservation Alliance has nominated the Great Falls Portage National Historical Landmark for placement as one of the most endangered sites in our nation. Once a year the National Trust of Historic Places publishes a list of ten most endangered sites and this list receives national and world wide publicity. When the 10th Street Bridge was placed on this list, it has received more publicity than any other project in Great Falls and Cascade County. The world will know the shameful decision and story of how our Great Falls City and Cascade County Commissioners have placed a heavy industrial site on our national heritage site and have taken steps for its destruction.

Future generations will no longer enjoy the integrity of its landscape. When they look from the Lewis and Clark historic marker site along Salem road, they will see how the vegetation will be altered, will have disappeared, because of microscopic particles from its stack has penetrated its leaves of its plants. No longer will this be prime agricultural lands. The lungs of wild life will contaminated with these small particles, and the rare tourist will wear a gasmask for protection. Parents would not take their children and much less eat the fish caught at the FWP access just above Belt Creek. It is doubtful that a tourist will enjoy the view of the twice a week a 110 car coal train coming on the landmark depositing its huge load on a very large coal pile, see the transmission, water, and sewer lines crossing the landmark from east to west, the houses, street lights, parking lots for the employees. In fact, the County Commissioners have opened the area for additional heavy industries in their Cascade County Industrial Park which is placed right on top of the landmark site.

Yes, it will be difficult to comprehend for future generations about the reasons for this destruction of such a beautiful landscape. They will learn that for a few years our City Fathers and Mothers got, perhaps a few years, electricity from the last constructed coal-fired generating plant in Montana. Its outdated technology will not allow modifications necessary for meeting standards of global warming and it was destined to close after a few years of operation. It empty shell will remain for they forgot to restore the landscape to its original setting. But tourists can read in the archives, or perhaps see an exhibit of my photos, in the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center of what the Great Falls Portage National Historic Landmark used to look like at the time of Lewis and Clark.

Is this what you want to happen?

Sincerely, Aart Dolman