HELENA — Two conservation groups have filed a lawsuit in an attempt to stop the Red Mountain Flume Chessman Reservoir timber project that officials say is necessary to protect Helena’s water supply.
With all parties still awaiting a federal court’s decision on whether to temporarily halt the Red Mountain Flume/Chessman Reservoir project, ground operations officially got underway Thursday.
Montana Ecosystems Defense Council and the Native Ecosystems Council filed a lawsuit in June challenging the project, and asked for an injunction Aug. 1 to halt the project until federal Judge Dana Christensen hears the case. The councils cite concerns over water quality, a low chance of wildfire and wildlife impacts in their lawsuit.
With no injunction, contractors were moving forward with the project while waiting for the decision, said Kathy Bushnell, public affairs officer for the Helena National Forest.
“It is so exciting for obviously the people that have been working on this project for seven years and put in so much time and effort to the forest,” she said. “This has a pretty wide excitement factor.”
Plans include logging about 300 acres and building fuel breaks on 158 acres near Chessman Reservoir and the flume to protect them from wildfire. Officials worry that if a fire swept through lodgepole pine killed by the mountain pine beetle, sediment could pollute the water supply of 30,000 residents of Helena.
A message left for city manager Ron Alles requesting comment was not returned by press time.
While trees have yet to fall, crews were moving in equipment to begin blading the road on Thursday.
Road work would continue for the next few days in preparation for logging trucks and equipment, Bushnell said.
“We look forward to getting this work going,” she said.
Steve Kelly, director of the Montana Ecosystems Council, expressed his disappointment that work had begun.
“I wouldn’t have supported an injunction if it wasn’t warranted,” he said. “You can’t pull it back once the bulldozers are rolling through it, but I’ve been at this for a while and you don’t always get what you want.”
On Aug. 13, the state of Montana officially entered the lawsuit when Christensen allowed Montana Attorney General Tim Fox and the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation to file a brief in support of the project.