The Montana Historic Preservation Review Board is asking Gov. Brian Schweitzer to protect a nationally recognized Lewis and Clark portage route it contends is threatened by the proposed Highwood Generating Station.
Both the coal-fired power plant and the Great Falls Portage National Historic Landmark are located east of Great Falls.
“We urge you to take all necessary steps within your power as governor to protect this important National Historic Landmark,” board Chairman H. Rafael Chacon wrote in a letter to Schweitzer dated Monday.
The board, which advises the governor and state agencies on preservation issues, voted 8-1 on Jan. 25 to send the letter. Members thought it was important that their voice be heard on “a very, very important issue,” said Kate Hampton, coordinator for the State Historic Preservation Office.
Evan Barrett, the chief business officer in the governor’s Office of Economic Development, said there’s little the governor can do administratively at this point because it is so late in the review process for the power plant.
Tim Gregori, general manager of Southern Montana Electric Generation & Transmission, which is the plant’s developer, called the move an “attempt to bolt with the process because it may not necessarily be going the way folks think it should be going.”
A protocol already exists to discuss mitigating the plant’s impact on the portage route, Gregori said. That process involves consultation between the federal Rural Utilities Service and historical and government agencies with a stake in the route.
SME is working to mitigate the potential visual impacts, including an expensive shift of the plant to outside the landmark corridor, Gregori said.
The company, which is a coalition of rural utilities, also is teaming with local groups to enhance the overall Lewis and Clark experience, Gregori said. He referenced a recent gift of $5,000 to the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center Foundation to purchase private land across the Missouri River from the center as an example.
The Great Falls Portage National Historic Landmark highlights an overland, one-mile-wide corridor explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark took around the falls of the Missouri River in 1805. It was designated a landmark in 1966.
The main power plant would not be located within the corridor, most of which is located on private land, but it would be within view of a public interpretive site. However, wind turbines associated with the facility would be located within the corridor.
The state preservation board concluded the landmark designation could be revoked because of the addition of power lines, wind turbines, roads, rail lines and the coal-fired portion of the power plant, which it says will “destroy the sense of place that currently characterizes this cultural resource.”
The Great Falls-Cascade County Historic Preservation Advisory Commission and the federal Advisory Council for Historic Preservation, which advises Congress, previously have raised similar concerns.
With the state board’s action, preservation agencies at every level are saying, “Please don’t do this,” said Ellen Sievert, the historic preservation officer for the Great Falls-Cascade County Historic Preservation Program.
In a letter to the preservation board before its vote, Gregori said it is only speculation that the landmark would be delisted if Highwood is built. He pointed out that the landmark corridor already features a high school, junkyard, marina and other development.
By Karl Puckett
Tribune Staff Writer
31 January 2008
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