Non-Indians drop case over transfer of dam to Montana tribe

The Kerr Dam in Montana is now known as the Salish-Kootenai Dam. Photo by Bill Barrett via Wikipedia

Two Republicans in Montana dropped a lawsuit that challenged the transfer of a dam to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes.

Sen. Bob Keenan (R) and former Sen. Verdell Jackson (R) sued the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to block the transfer of the Kerr Dam to Energy Keepers, a tribal entity. They claimed national security interest were at stake, making vague and unsubstantiated allegations about the government of Turkey and its interest in Indian Country.

A federal judge refused to block the transfer just days before the tribe took control of the facility, now known as Salish-Kootenai Dam. Keenan and Jackson filed a notice of voluntary dismissal on Tuesday, putting an end to the case.

The tribe paid $18.3 million for the dam and is now the first in Indian Country to own and operate a major hydroelectric generating project. Although the transfer is complete, it remains somewhat controversial in Montana.

Earlier this month, the all-Republican Montana Public Service Commission asked the FERC to hold more public hearings on the matter. They claimed the transfer was politically motivated and rushed even though the tribe spent 20 years with multiple administrations in Washington, D.C., working on the license.

"Our primary concern with the transfer of Kerr Dam is to determine if it is in the public’s interest, and FERC’s proceeding left far too many unanswered questions," Brad Johnson (R), the chairman of the commission, said in a press release. "Those living in the communities affected by this transfer must have ample opportunity to ask questions and provide input, and this proceeding fell short of that standard."

The tribe has since announced that it will not make payments in lieu of property taxes on the dam since it's located on the Flathead Reservation. Lake County previously received nearly $1 million per year, according to news reports.

The dam was built in the 1930s against the wishes of many tribal members and is located on land along the Flathead River held sacred by the Salish, Pend d’Oreille and Kootenai peoples. Fourteen tribal members died while working on the project, according to Energy Keepers.

Get the Story:
Plaintiffs drop lawsuit challenging dam transfer to Montana tribes (AP 10/13)
Dam Transfer Brings Drop In Lake County Tax Revenue (Montana Public Radio 10/13)
Tribes won't help offset loss of tax revenue from Kerr Dam (The Missoulian 10/10)
PSC wants feds to hold hearings on Salish Kootenai Dam transfer (The Ravalli Republic 10/2)

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