Assistant US Attorney General Files to Dissolve Construction Injunction
In 2015, a federal court judge in Great Falls issued an injunction against the construction of the fish bypass and concrete weir on the Yellowstone River at Intake. At risk is water for 58,000 acres of irrigated cropland, the economic vitality of several communities, and any project being completed for the recovery of the endangered Pallid Sturgeon.
Acting assistant US Attorney General Jeffrey Wood filed a motion Feb 1, 2017 on behalf of federal agencies asking the court to dissolve the construction injunction and dismiss most of the case because the new environmental impact statement (EIS) and the biological opinion from US Fish and Wildlife addresses all the judge's suggestions and the majority of the plaintiff's legal complaints.
"The 2016 EIS directly addresses the questions raised by the court. Having completed the analysis, there is no reason for further delay of the project which is critical to federal defendant's efforts to carry out their responsibilities under the Endangered Species Act. Indeed, further delay will not only increase the project but have the potential to jeopardize the project altogether.
Wood went on to say "The US Fish and Wildlife Service believes that this delay will harm this critically endangered species." Wood requested a short briefing schedule and a decision by April 15 because the wild pallid sturgeon are getting too old to reproduce. The plaintiffs agreed that a continued delay in improving pallid sturgeon passage at Intake adversely effects the species in the January 2016 stipulated stay. The April 15 deadline is also critical because the contractor has to know by then if they can begin construction of the weir and bypass this year. Otherwise the contractor wants to drop the project and the federal funding will be lost because it was allocated in 2015.
In the meantime, water will continue to flow to the farmers as usual. LYIP general manager James Brower said that is has been confirmed that the mountains that supply the Yellowstone River have good snowpack and that reservoirs are at average levels, meaning a good water supply, depending on the spring thaw.
While LYIP workers continue with indoor projects, the snow and cold weather have stopped most construction and maintenance this winter. Brower said the schedule will be very full, getting operations and maintenance done this spring in time to open the gates.