Construction on Fresno Safety of Dams Project to Start in 2023

By Josh Margolis

HAVRE, Mont. (NMB) – Representatives from the Bureau of Reclamation held a handful of public meetings this week along the Hi-Line to inform local residents about the impending Fresno Safety of Dams Project.

The project is scheduled to begin construction next March following the bid awarding and should be completed in October 2026.

According to the Bureau, the Dam is one of the highest risk projects in the Missouri Basin Region and has experienced 10 feet of settlement, the second highest amount of all Bureau dams.

Because of this risk, the Dam is being repaired, with the federal government covering the entirety of the estimated $77 million up front, but asking irrigators and municipalities to repay 15 percent of that over as many as 50 years.

Irrigation districts and pump contracts are being asked to repay 84 percent of that 15 percent, and that will be interest-free.

Municipalities that use the Milk River are paying two percent of the 15 percent, with the interest rate being decided at a later date by weighting the average rate through the entire construction project. Currently , the rate is 2.35 percent.

The remaining portion of the 15 percent must be re-payed by Fort Belknap and will be interest-free. Fort Belknap has water rights to 1/7 of the storage at Fresno.

Those needing to pay for a portion of the project have already been contacted and are being asked to select the length of their contract by April 1st. It is estimated that repayment will begin in 2027 following completion of the project.

The project will be completed in three steps. The first is installing dewatering and excavating a sand trench. Next, a sand filter and gravel drain will be installed. Lastly, spillway joints will be replaced.

Impacts to recreation and irrigation are expected. The fishing access site just south of the dam is expected to be closed for the duration of the project for safety reasons. No other recreation closures are anticipated. This includes the boat dock, which should remain open throughout the project.

The Reservoir itself is expected to be drawn down to elevation 2,555, which is 20 feet below full pool, from August 15th to December 1st of either 2023 or 2024, while spillway wall work is underway. Irrigation releases will continue as St. Mary’s supply allows. Whether the Reservoir will be refilled in December 2023 depends on the natural runoff and the St. Mary’s water supply.

Crest Road will be single lane traffic throughout construction and will be closed when the spillway wall is being worked on.

BOR will repair the road from US 2 to the Dam bridge once construction is complete.

North Borrow Area Road closures will only be necessary if there is not enough material for the project in the South Borrow Area. This is not expected.

The project website can be viewed here, while the slideshow that was presented at the meetings is available here.

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