Fallon County holds public Dewatering meeting

The Baker Lake is a 109 year old man-made dam which was dug in 1908. It was built by the Milwaukee Railroad to supply their steam engines with water.

By Sherry Vogel

The Baker Lake is a 109 year old man-made dam which was dug in 1908. It was built by the Milwaukee Railroad to supply their steam engines with water. The location of the Lake was selected because of the fresh water springs located in that area. It was first called Lake Baker.

Fifty some people flooded the County Commissioner’s office on May 9 to attend the public meeting to voice their comments and concerns regarding the Dewatering project that is being scheduled to drain the Baker Lake.

The Commission office was too small to accommodate the large crowd so the meeting was moved to the lower level of the library basement.

Dan Brosz, Professional Engineer and owner of the Brosz Engineering Firm of Bowman, ND and Shannon Hewson, Professional Engineer presented the lake Dewatering project.

Mr. Hewson opened the meeting by explaining that the project will be carried out in two phases. Phase I will begin as soon as permits are obtained from the four regulating agencies involved with the project. The agencies involved are: US Army of Engineering, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, Department of Environmental Quality, and the local Fallon County Flood Plan Administrator. The US Army Corp of Engineers requires a period for public comment of 30 days. This period began May1. Brosz estimates that the draining will commence soon after that deadline is met.

Dewatering Baker Lake

The water in the 378 acre-feet of lake will be pumped out at 3,500-10,000 gallons a minute, depending on the type of pumps and equipment the contractor utilizes.

For example, if the water is pumped out at 3,500 gallons a minute, running 24/7 it will take approximately 35 days to drain and if at the maximum rate will take a slightly shorter period of time.

The water rate, which can be regulated, will be based on the amount of water that the lakefront can tolerate without any destruction to the environment.

The main draining site will be at the spillway at the northern end of the lake (behind Runnings). Water will run out reaching its final destination at the wetland areas behind the fire station.

Public concerns and comments

The large crowd presented with a number of concerns and comments. The topics spanned from concerns about killing the fish, amphibians and turtles to environmental concerns such as quality of the air due to the stench of massive amounts of the aquatic life dying, to problems of unwanted amounts of sediment washing down the stream and settling in other areas, whether the lake shores will be reconfigured, to disturbing the MDU pipeline that runs under the lake, to the fear that the massive amount of water rushing along will wash out private built crossings and railroad trestle bridges.

Mr. Hewson told those in attendance that the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks will not be relocating any fish or amphibians to other areas. The rationale behind their decision, according to Hewson: Fish and Wildlife doesn’t want to move viable pathogens to new areas and they do not want to disturb the food chain or environmental balance of the fauna in a different locale.

The stench from rotting fish issue will have to be dealt with as the occasion arises. This spring season saw a massive amount of winter kill fish. There is no way to determine the amount of fish that remain living in the lake, whether that number be 1,000 or 20,000 remaining fish.

A concern was voiced concerning sparing or relocating the large, old centurion turtles that have been seen from time-to-time coming out on the north shore of Baker lake. The turtles will be expected to fend for themselves.

Others voiced questions concerning the two live water springs that will continue to feed the lake. *The springs are located north of the Bed and Breakfast peninsula and just off the northeast shore of the Iron Horse Park. Whether these springs will have a negative impact when the draining begins is yet to be seen.

The underwater MDU pipeline was another voiced concern. Brosz does not think this is an issue due to its location in the south 1/3 end of the lake, as it is not located in the contaminated area.

The pipeline question triggered another question concerning whether the grounds of the entire lakebed will be cleaned up after the whole lake is drained? Commissioner Baldwin, chairman hence spokesperson for the Commission stated, “Fema would not commit to the south end of the lake.” Hewson added, “FEMA will only be involved with the clean-up of the 26 contaminated acres affected by the tornado.” The entire lake encompasses a total of 93 acres.

The question was then raised whether the County will take advantage of the fact that the lake is drained, at FEMA’s expense and go in and clean–up the south end that is not in the designated contaminated area. Commissioner Baldwin answered, “Yes, the County has an improvement plan and is considering the clean- up of the south end.”

A citizen asked, “Will the Fish, Wildlife and Game Department help to restock the lake?” Richard Menger answered, “Yes, they are excited about Baker’s project. They will be restocking the lake with good fish.”

The public meeting was adjourned. Commissioner Baldwin stated, “I was very pleased with the meeting and the participation. It was a good turnout. I hope that there will be just as many at the Phase II meeting.”

Mayor Pratt stated, “Brosz did a nice job of answering the questions. I am looking forward to the completion of the project.”

According to Richard Menger, Environmental Health Specialist for Fallon County, a broad range view of the project from the start of draining to the final stage of completion (which will be the planting of vegetation along the lakeshore) will take two to three years to complete.