Lewis and Clark head to court

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Few things in Montana elicit more interest and debate than the stewardship of our rivers, and a case headed for the U.S. Supreme Court will decide just who owns the land below those treasured waterways.

In a new piece by Washington Post High Court reporter Robert Barnes, he examines how PPL Montana v. Montana will ultimately be decided by Lewis and Clark.

Here's the gist of it:

PPL Montana v. Montana asks the court to decide who owns the lands below three Montana rivers and pits the state against a company that operates three hydroelectric dams along the waterways. Both sides say the outcome could affect the control of riverbeds throughout the nation, especially in the West.

And both sides claim that the 1805 journals of the great expedition to the Northwest conducted by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark lend credence to their arguments.

The main question deals with the navigability of the rivers at the time Montana became a state in 1889. Montana says they were, and therefore PPL owes the state $53 million in back rent. PPL, of course, disagrees.

Barnes quotes specific passages from Lewis and Clark that support both sides of the argument, and digs into the legal particulars of the precedent-setting case. For instance, 26 states are supporting Montana because, as the state's lawyer writes, a PPL victory would “upset centuries-old expectations and call into question the navigability of rivers not just in Montana but throughout the United States.”

Read the whole story here.

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