Due the partial federal government shutdown that started in December, the Bitterroot National Forest is extending a comment period on whether helicopters should be allowed to fly into a wilderness area to repair a century-old dam.
The Canyon Lake Dam, located in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness west of Hamilton, is classified as a high hazard structure.
“If it would fail, it could cause significant damage, obviously, to downstream property and natural resources," says Tod McKay, a spokesperson for the Bitterroot National Forest.
Motorized vehicles, including helicopters, are generally prohibited from federally designated Wilderness areas, but the Forest Service is proposing authorizing dam owners and operators Canyon Creek Irrigation District, to fly in equipment to repair several sinkholes forming in the embankment of the dam.
McKay says the trail to the dam is so steep and rocky, there aren’t a lot of other options.
"There’s really no way for the Irrigation District to get the heavy construction materials and supplies up there, really any other way other than flying them in," he says.
The new extended comment period will run until March 11. Comments previously submitted do not need to be resubmitted.
View the environmental assessment for the Canyon Lake Dam project and find out how to submit a comment.