MISSOULA — After landing a planning grant for the next phase of work in the Ninemile Creek watershed, Missoula County will now seek funding to complete the project.
Commissioners on Thursday agreed to submit a grant application to the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation seeking $351,000 to complete Phase 6 of the reclamation work in Ninemile Creek.
If approved, the project would take place in 2022.
“Last year we were awarded a planning grant for $30,000,” said Kylie Paul, the natural resource specialist for Missoula County. “This is now the next round into implementation for work in the Ninemile to fix the stream system after all the placer work in the past.”
Slag piles and dredge ponds remain in portions of the Ninemile district – a relic of the mining that took place a century ago. Destruction of the watershed led to erosion and increased stream temperatures, and it prevented bull trout and Westslope cutthroat from navigating to historic spawning grounds.
Decades of mining had disconnected Twin Creek from Ninemile Creek prior to restoration work, leaving it unsuited for most aquatic wildlife.But in 2004, Trout Unlimited, Missoula County and the Lolo National Forest launched a campaign to reclaim the Ninemile’s abandoned mining sites and restore the landscape to a more natural condition.
The work has played out slowly over the years, though progress is being made.
“This next phase is the main stem with connectors into the tributaries,” said Paul. “In the past, we’ve had distinct tributaries. These stages are more for the Ninemile proper.”
To date, funds from the state’s Reclamation and Development Grant have supported five restoration projects throughout the watershed, including Mattie V. Creek and Twin Creek, which had been channeled into a ditch and a dredge pond before restoration took place.
An abandoned hardrock mine also impeded Kennedy Creek and left the waterway with elevated levels of copper and zinc. The mining waste was removed during the summer of 2015 and contractors rebuilt and opened the stream in late November.
“There’s also other potential big grants we might be getting,” said Paul. “That’s still in the works.”