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FERC removes Web page about holes in Montana dam

By The Associated Press

12.28.02

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MISSOULA, Mont. — The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has removed a document from its Web site that revealed officials found foot-wide gaps in a portion of the aging Milltown Dam upstream from here.

Instead, the Web site now contains a notice that anyone wishing to view the information must file a request with the agency through the federal Freedom of Information Act.

The agency did not explain the reason behind the change, and a spokesman did not return a phone call seeking comment on Dec. 24.

The one-page document was on the agency's Web site as late as Dec. 20. It revealed that an engineer with Northwestern Energy, which owns the dam, called the FERC twice on Oct. 25 to report that company officials had found gaps between the bottom of the dam's concrete spillway and its earthen foundation.

An engineer said the gaps could be filled with grout, and a NorthWestern spokeswoman, Claudia Rapkoch, said the dam was "safe and structurally sound."

Missoula County commissioners, however, were upset that they were never told about the problem. They learned of it only after a county employee came across the document on FERC's Web site last week.

Commissioners sent a written complaint to the agency on Dec. 20, after a FERC engineer said he could not discuss the gaps because of "national security." By Dec. 23, the document had been removed from FERC's Web site.

Peter Nielsen, environmental health supervisor at Missoula's City-County Health Department, said FERC was improperly withholding information.

"After Sept. 11, FERC put the clamps on certain things so terrorists could not get in there and get diagrams to Grand Coulee," he said. "But we are not Grand Coulee.

"Our downtown is five miles downstream from this dam, and we are in fact threatened by this structure. The citizens of Missoula have a concern for their public health, safety and welfare, and we are having information withheld from us."

The dam and its Milltown Reservoir are the terminus of the nation's largest Superfund environmental cleanup site, the resting place for decades of mine waste that washed 120 miles down the Clark Fork River from Butte and Anaconda.

The Environmental Protection Agency currently is considering options for cleaning up the contamination and dealing with the dam, which was built in 1907. Missoula and Missoula County officials support removing dam entirely, cleaning up the contaminated sediment and returning the area to its natural state.

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