Friday, March 01, 2024

Concerned about Blankenship

| January 31, 2024 2:00 AM

I live just upstream of the proposed Blankenship bank stabilization project on the North Fork and am very concerned about anything that could have lasting harmful effects to the free flowing nature of the Wild and Scenic Flathead River.

This project, for which Flathead County and the Forest Service are seeking comments through Jan. 31, (today) needs to be halted.  At the very least, the comment period needs to be extended until information is presented to demonstrate the purpose and need of the project.  

In speaking with the county, they are concerned about the erosion from the backwater created by the “temporary” bridge installed after the flood of 1964.  They are further concerned that Blankenship Bridge and/or its western approach might be taken out and traffic disrupted as a result.  The project area was inundated during the flood of 1995, and the bridge and approach remained intact.  The possibility that either bridge or approach is vulnerable to damage is exceedingly remote.  Particularly during this period of low snowpack and decreasing flows, there exists no urgency to expend any more money or resources on an ill-conceived project such as this.

The Forest Service’s purpose and need as expressed in their request for comment letter dated Jan. 9 seems to be to control bank erosion and “improve habitat…for native cutthroat and bull trout.”

  The latter phrase seems to be their go to when they are trying to push dubious projects through the system.  They then make the further false and misleading statement that this proposed infrastructure “allows for access…to the Blankenship Bridge access site for rafting, camping and fishing.”  Rafters rarely use the area of the proposed project, and overnight camping is prohibited on the county portion, as it is designated day use only.

District Ranger Davies has made a preliminary determination that no environmental assessment need be made because the project is removing, replacing or modifying water control structures.  No water control structures exist along this stretch of the Wild and Scenic free-flowing Flathead, so this assertion is false. 

Since Blankenship Bridge was installed, it has restricted flows, altered the river channel and caused possibly irreparable harm to the free flowing river in this area.  Furthermore, the single lane bridge is inadequate and unsafe. The County and Forest Service need to quit wasting time and money applying band aides and cooperate on the removal and replacement of the bridge with a new, longer, wider and safer structure as soon as possible.

Gary Saurey


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