The Montana Department of Environmental Quality, which some Bitterrooters complain is a toothless organization, has sunk its teeth into Dave Bush.
Bush, who lives on the Bitterroot River upstream from Bell Crossing and downstream from Hank Williams Jr., ran afoul of the state last April when he dug a new channel in the river in part to deflect the channel away from his riverfront home.
Bush built his home so close to the river that local fishing guides, as well as a few county officials, wondered how he ever obtained the proper permits.
The home is barely out of the floodplain, and is surrounded on all sides either by the river or by floodplain. Last year he applied to various county, state and federal agencies for the right permits to protect his home and property from the river channel that was undercutting the bank on which the house sits.
He was granted the permits allowing him to riprap the eroding bank in front of his house, but he took the project several steps further.
To deflect the swiftly moving river away from his home while he was installing the riprap, Bush dug out a new channel upstream from his property. The new channel captured the river, carrying it away from his home, leaving the mainstem low enough for the riprap work to continue.
It was that excavation work that caught the eye of professional fishing guides. When Bush dug out the channel he created a gravel bar about eight feet high, 20 feet wide and 650 feet long in the middle of the river. The illegal excavation discharged gravel, sand, silt and clay into the Bitterroot River. The gravel bar, or “spoil pile,” as the state calls it, eroded and continues to erode into the river, particularly during spring runoff.
Last month the Department of Environmental Quality ordered Bush to clean up his mess. He must hire a “qualified specialist” to develop a plan to remove or stabilize the excavation sediment that was disposed of along the riverbanks. The plan must include details of how the work will be done. Bush also must monitor the success of the clean up until Aug. 31 and must provide annual reports to the state this August and August 2002.
Bush has until the end of February to submit his plan to the state. Once the state approves it, he has 20 days to implement it, and until April 30 to complete it.
The state’s order addresses clean-up only, however. The Department of Environmental Quality reserves the right to seek civil and administrative penalties of up to $35,000 per day of violation.