The Yellowstone River in eastern Montana is the longest free-flowing river in the lower 48 states. For many years, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers used the “willy-nilly” method for permitting activities along the Yellowstone River. According to the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, development of structures in the 100-year floodplain between Corwin Springs and Livingston increased by 57% between 1990 and 2000. Then came 1996 and 1997 and two years in a row of near 100-year flood flows. Following the flooding, applications for permits to restrain the river came in hot and heavy. The Corps, having no real guidelines for permitting work, issued way too many permits for bank stabilization. This action lead to a lawsuit by the State of Montana and a group of conservation organizations. The suit to force the Corps to better consider the cumulative effects of the structures was successful and along with the Governor’s Upper Yellowstone River Task Force and a directive from Congress, the COE began work in 2003 to develop a Special Area Management Plan (SAMP) for the 86-mile stretch of the Yellowstone from near Yellowstone Park to Springdale, below Livingston.
On Feb. 28th, the Corps released the draft environmental assessment for the SAMP. The assessment says the the agency is “committed to analyzing proposed activities using a watershed-level approach.” a first for Corps projects. It would create a Special River Management Zone (SRMZ) for a 48-mile reach with “enhanced protections” from Emigrant to a few miles below the Shields River and Mission Creek Confluence. Some permits would be revoked and restrictions would be placed on the configuration of all permitted projects. They will identify particularly sensitive stream reaches and one of the goals would be that there be no net gain in flood control and bank stabilization projects. “The Corps would establish a local policy whereby no new bank stabilization projects could be permitted without a similar amount of riverbank restored.”
Twenty-two alternatives were analyzed (hey, this is still the government after all). The preferred alternative being, Alternative V: Combination of Alternatives. The assessment is now in a 60-day comment period and the Corps wants to hear from you. You can read the Executive Summary of the EA, or review the entire 471-page document. You can comment at Upper.Yellowstone.SAMP@usace.army.mil Take some time to look over the proposals and please let the Corps of Engineers know how you feel about the proposal. This is really a big step for the Corps to use “transparent analysis and selection of feasible, defensible, science-based alternatives”. I’m sure there will be some discussion on the Greater Yellowstone Coalition website as well as others.
Beware when you hit the USACOE web stuff, your browser may throw a certificate error. This is still the army and they think they have to be extra secure by making things really confusing. Just install the certificate and you should be okay.