Concerns voiced as Kerr Dam sale progresses


KALISPELL, Mont. - It's a dam that has sat on tribal land since the 1930's. Now, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes are closer than ever to finally owning it.

Within the last few days, the Federal Government signed off on the transfer of the Kerr Dam license to Northwestern Energy, which will then sell the dam to the tribes as part of an agreement a long time in the making.

"If Northwestern is successful in their acquisition endeavor, we will pay them on September 15th of 2015 $18.3 million," said Brian Lipscomb, CEO of Energy Keepers Inc. which is a tribal corporation set up to run the dam.

But not everyone is on board with the deal, including State Senator Verdell Jackson of Kalispell. He's worried that if the tribe takes over control of the dam it may not be run the way that it is now. And hes worried about flood levels and the delivery of irrigation waters.

"It's quite possible for us to get flooded out if the runoff, the early runoff, is not handled properly," said Jackson.

But Energy Keepers says that the when the tribe takes control of the dam, nothing will change.

"When we exercise our option to acquire the facility, we will operate it pursuant to the existing license. So the lake operations will be the same," said Lipscomb.

Lake County has also taken on a vocal role in the pending acquisition, concerned because the tribes won't be required to pay property taxes. The dam is on tribal land, so they wouldn't have to pay the taxes, but they are discussing the matter with the county.

If the tribes are successful in acquiring the dam, they say it would not only be a huge win for them, but for the state of Montana.

"What will change though is that the value of the facility and the value of the power sold will stay here locally. So instead of going to Pennsylvania it will stay here in Montana," said Lipscomb.

The Montana Public Service Commission still has to approve the sale of the dam from PPL Montana to Northwestern Energy Company. If that is completed, then the tribes will take over operation of the dam next year.