City officials in Libby are hoping to receive federal funds this spring and start replacing the ancient dam that holds the community’s drinking water. The cost of replacing the Flower Creek Dam is more than $8 million and recently increased by $172,227, in part because the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service required the city complete a biological assessment of the area’s grizzly bear, Canada lynx and bull trout populations.
Mayor Doug Roll and the city council were notified of the increased expense at a recent meeting with Morrison-Maierle, Inc., the Kalispell-based engineering firm heading up the project.
The USFWS’ requirement that a biological assessment occur in the area where the dam will be replaced has been a source of controversy since last year, when the agency rescinded a 2012 comment approving the project. Roll and the rest of the council were frustrated by the oversight and the project was delayed. The USFWS called the entire episode a “miscommunication.” The assessment was completed last year and it recommended that the city look into conducting a feasibility study to determine if a bull trout fish passage should be installed. That cost $25,990.
Earlier this month, Morrison-Maierle outlined the additional costs in a document provided to the city. Along with the fish study, grant administration added $58,500 to the project; various permitting and documentation work cost $23,516; and other fees and labor brought the total bill to $172,227.
Now that the biological assessment is done, Roll is hopeful that the USDA Rural Development funding will finally come through for the project. The replacement of the dam, built in 1946, is critical because the structure is losing strength. In 2010, Morrison-Maierle completed a core sample text of the arch dam and found that the concrete strength was less than 1,000 pounds per square inch. Normal strength is between 3,000 and 4,000 pounds per square inch. A report, issued by the engineers in September 2011, stated that under normal conditions the dam would be usable for another five years. However, if a seismic event compromised the dam, Flower Creek and the town of Libby could be flooded. The town has been looking at replacing the old dam for years,
Once funds for the project are obtained, the city could lower the reservoir level behind the dam, lessening the risk of it breaking. However, Roll said city officials are hesitant of lowering the water level earlier because once it has been lowered, it can’t be filled up again for risk of weakening the dam more.
“Lowering the water level would mitigate the hazard,” Roll said. “The big thing is getting that funding from USDA Rural Development (in the coming months).”
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