STATEMENT OF ROBERT J. ROBINSON, CANYON FERRY RECREATION ASSOCIATION

On behalf of the Canyon Ferry Recreation Association, and as Chairman of the Acquisition Subcommittee, I'd like to thank you, Senator, for working so hard on Senate Bill 1913, as both the primary sponsor of the bill and holding this hearing.

I'm today accompanied by Larry LaRock and Stephen Browning. Larry is a member of the Acquisition Subcommittee. He is also a long-time member of the Board of Directors of the Canyon Ferry Recreation Association. Steve Browning, as you know, a former member of your staff, is our legal counsel on this particular bill.

I'd also like to go on record as thanking Senator Burns and Congressman Hill. Both have been closely in touch with our association, as have you, and both have been working towards reconciliation of some differences and to get a bill that we can all support and that meets all the needs of the people in the area. I'd specifically like to recognize the efforts of Holly Luck. Holly has done an excellent job of keeping us informed, listening to our complaints, trying to identify for us issues before they became a problem. And she is always an open ear and a real good support for our association.

Brian Kuehl, also on your staff, has just done an excellent job in terms of working with the details of the bill and working with the Congressional Delegation staff back in Washington, D.C. And we really do appreciate his technical efforts as well.

We've prefiled our testimony, which is pretty long, longer than the five or ten minutes that you've given me, although Holly said earlier maybe 15 if we stretched it. But I'll try to be shorter than that.

That testimony is pretty straightforward, it's factual, we think it's balanced, and we think it addresses the expected issues with regard to the proposed transfer. My testimony is going to be more from the heart. I represent a family who has been a lessee since 1960.

And you can look around this room, and there are a ton of people we know who have been lessees from the late 1950s to the 1960s. And the interesting thing about this is, we have a community out there. This is a community of 265 lessees who all have kids and grandkids and great grandkids out there and all who know each other. We know our neighbors out there. This isn't like some other places where we don't know our neighbors, we don't know what's going on. We are a community. I mean, they even built their own church out there. They utilize the same little stores. They see each other in various recreation aspects. And so we're talking about what's happening to a 265-home community out there.

I want to really make it clear that this bill is desperately needed by these 265 lessees, and more importantly, or as important, for the other people in southwestern Montana. Some of these people, and you can look around, there's a few people out here with more gray hair than I, and they've been dealing with this issue since 1968. The first record that we were able to discover is that Canyon Ferry Recreation Association was in touch with Senator Mansfield, trying to address this issue in 1968.

The two driving issues behind this bill and, and our proposal is that the Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Reclamation has a policy to eventually eliminate the leased cabin sites at Canyon Ferry, and we'll talk a little bit later about that policy; and most recently, in the last 10 to 15 years, a continuous upward spiral in the lease rates that are pushing people, literally, off the land.

I think these issues must be addressed now. They can be addressed by the Baucus/Burns bill. And in addressing the issues that are affected by the 265 leaseholders, we can address some other issues that should have been taken care of when Canyon Ferry Dam was constructed and some other issues related to habitat, to other recreation opportunities in southwest Montana and, as you've modified the bill, in all of Montana. So Canyon Ferry Recreation Association wants to go on record as strongly supporting the bill is it's currently written.

I want to tell you about the cabin site lessees. They're not wealthy individuals or out-of-state owners, like you see at Flathead Lake or Seeley Lake or at Whitefish Lake. These are people primarily from Helena and Butte, Boulder, Bozeman, White Sulphur Springs, even some from, I think from Billings and Missoula, but primarily from southwestern Montana. These are people who are teachers, they're lawyers, they're dentists, they're smelter workers, they're craftsmen, they're telephone company employees. These are people who are not considered wealthy on the scheme of real wealth, even here in Montana. They are people who have raised their kids here. They are people who pay taxes out there, they pay taxes on a home in their communities as well.

And they're also not just 265 individuals. I hate to use my family as an example, but, you know, my mother and father had seven kids. We all use that cabin. We're all married, we've all got a bunch more kids. And this summer, we may have the fourth generation of Robinsons out there.

Senator Baucus. How many is that?

Mr. Robinson. I'm afraid to ask. I think we'd be talking in the 30s. So there's some 30 people that have a direct interest in the outcome of this bill. And that happens all the way up and down the lake. That's not just, you know, on Cabin Site 8. We can go up and down the shoreline and find dozens and dozens of families whose grandfathers and fathers and brothers and sisters and kids are now using those sites.

The other thing that happens out there is that those sites become a magnet for a whole bunch of other people in the community that aren't lessees, you know, friends, office parties, whatever happens out there. Those cabin sites are a recreation resource in and of themselves.

So we're facing some pretty serious problems. But we think we've got a solution here, and we think there's some extraordinary benefits in terms of how to utilize the funds. We think, as the bill is currently drafted, there are no losers in this legislation. We've been through this since 1968. And every time there's a loser involved in this legislation, or in this process, the process gets stymied and stops. We think we've got a process, with your bill, where there aren't losers. There's gainers on all sides.

I want to give you a little bit of background on this. And we're relying on a man by the name of Steve Clark, who used to be a Bureau of Reclamation employee in Helena and did a Master's thesis on leases at Canyon Ferry Reservoir.

The dam was completed in 1954. It was primarily for flood control, power production, and irrigation. But when that dam was discussed in Congress, and was promoted, they also talked about the multipurpose use of it, and part of that multipurpose use was recreation. And, as Clark says, what better way to show multipurpose use than to allow cabin sites along the shoreline of the lake.

And so, you know, before the cabin sites were, were authorized between 1958 and 1960, the Bureau of Reclamation identified the prime public recreation spots on the north end of Canyon Ferry Reservoir. And they segregated those so that there wouldn't be any cabin sites on those spots. So the best sites were reserved for the public back in 1956, '57, before any permits were issued.

Then those first 265 sites were, were authorized by lottery. And they weren't 265 in one fell swoop, I think they went in two or three lottery cycles. And the deal was at the time, and the requirement of the lease, was that if somebody received a cabin site by lottery, they had two years in which to build a permanent structure on that site, so the Bureau of Reclamation could go back to Congress and say, "Look, we've established the multipurpose use of this thing. We have cabin sites out there, we've got public recreation sites." So the deal was, you build a permanent structure, we'll give you a reasonable lease, and we meet our obligation.

What's happened since then is the federal cabin site policy has vacillated. It's gone from one of, of overt and open promotion of cabin sites to discouragement of cabin sites to kind of leaving the cabin sites alone for a while, when it was managed by the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, now to propose phase-out. And I would refer you to the Inspector General Report dated May of 1995 -- and we submitted that with our testimony -- on pages 10 and 11, where they speak specifically to why hasn't the Bureau of Reclamation activated its plan to phase out the cabin sites and then they conclude that they haven't activated their plan because the Bureau of Reclamation could not prove at that point that the sites were needed for public use.

And I think that's going to be pretty important in terms of, when we refer to the maps here in a little bit. But we believe that the purchase of the sites will eliminate that contention and give us a whole lot of other benefits.

I'd like to refer to this map here (indicating), and Larry will point out kind of what we need to show you. First of all, the north end of the lake -- and that thing is skewed a little bit. The north end of the lake is in Lewis and Clark County. The economic benefit from the tax base has accrued entirely to Lewis and Clark County at this point. Roughly, 20 percent of the lake, or maybe a little less, is in Lewis and Clark County.

On the south end of the lake, the undeveloped end, you know, about 80 percent of it, that's all in Broadwater County. Broadwater County really hasn't seen much benefit from this lake in terms of, in their economic base.

The dark spots you can see on, on the map there, those are where the cabin sites are located. You've been out there, you know that.

Senator Baucus. Right.

Mr. Robinson. But an important point to recognize is that the first about three miles from the dam back to the first cabin sites is public land; lots of public recreation opportunities occur there. And interspersed within the cabin sites, as you can see on the south side there, and on both sides, the prime land was earmarked for public recreation sites. And those in fact do exist. There are much fewer of those on the south end of the lake.

I think what's real important, though -- and we'll probably refer you to the other map now. Keep Larry on the move here. This is a map prepared in some of the work that we're doing with our reappraisals. And if you take a look at that, this is a micro-section of the cabin site section over here (indicating).

The green area that encompasses all of the shoreline in front of the cabins and all of the places in between the cabins is in fact of Bureau of Reclamation land and, by this proposal, would remain Bureau of Reclamation land. None of the cabin sites have lakeshore. We all have lakeshore access, but we don't have lakeshore -- our property lines are generally in an area of ten vertical feet above high water level at the lake, which pushes you back quite a bit from the shoreline. And I think that's something that's real important for everybody to understand all the way along here, that if these cabin sites are sold, the lakeshore, the recreation opportunities from the lakeshore are not lost to the public.

And I think the bottom line in it is that there is, with the sale, there is no loss of the current recreation opportunities. And in fact, there are new recreation opportunities that will result from the, from the sale.

We are looking at it not -- We'd like to call it a land exchange, but it's not quite that, in that we don't have land to, to transfer. But what it is, is an exchange of money, maybe estimated at $15 to $20 million dollars, if you look at all of the cabin sites; and that money, in your bill, would be split 45 percent to the Canyon Ferry-Missouri Trust and 45 percent to the fund for public land access and 10 percent to the, to the Bureau of Reclamation.

I think the good thing about this is that in times of tight federal money, we are developing new public use dollars that can provide significant opportunities for recreation and habitat enhancement in the area. Most of that money, or most of the Missouri River-Canyon Ferry Trust would be used in Broadwater County. I mean, that's where the opportunities are, and that's where most of the adverse impact from the dam occurred. Lewis and Clark County would receive an increased tax base to the extent that that $15 to $20 million dollars is now, in property value is privately held. That goes onto the tax base. Lewis and Clark County benefits. East Helena schools, the Helena public high schools benefit from that.

The whole idea of a trust is not new. I'm sure you're aware of Montana Power's Missouri-Madison Trust that was created to do exactly the same thing we're talking about. But they left the hole in the doughnut. They go from Hebgen Dam down to Toston Dam, pick up at the bottom of Canyon Ferry, and go down to Great Falls. Because the Bureau of Rec owns the Canyon Ferry Reservoir, we don't have any Missouri River Trust here. This is the way we can fill that in, and I think it's a perfect match for Montana Power's Missouri-Madison Trust.

There are other trusts in Montana. And I'm sure that in your days of watching the Bonneville power line go across Montana, you remember the Rock Creek Trust that was established to mitigate the impacts there. Montana Power and Bonneville Power put a million dollars up to mitigate that. That's working wonderfully over there in the Rock Creek drainage.

I want to make sure that you understand, and that the public understands, that this is not a sweetheart deal for the cabin site owners. The language in the bill and the concept embodied by yourself and the other congressmen are that fair market value, based on a current, valid appraisal, has to be the minimum price that the cabin owners would pay for their sites. In exchange, we would obtain the title to the land, an easement access from the main road to the cabin site, and an easement for one boat dock per cabin site and recreation opportunity on the shoreline. Again, I want to emphasize, the shoreline remains public property.

The bidding process is a little bit complicated. And you know we've gone back and forth on that. We can support the bidding process as it now stands, with the safeguards that allow the current lessee to match the highest bidder or allow the current lessee to continue to lease until the current lease expires in the year 2014. We recognize and support the requirement that you people see in Congress to ensure that fair market value is obtained.

We received a letter from the Montana Wildlife Federation not too long ago, in fact, shortly after we were talking about the Sweetgrass Hills. And the Montana Wildlife Federation, I thought, had a great sentence in there that basically said that: Canyon Ferry public lands have lost their historic public wildlife value as a result of habitat alterations and destruction. If those lands are permanently taken out of the public domain, then we believe they must be replaced by lands that aim to provide the public with wildlife and recreation opportunities that once existed.

I can tell you that our cabin site didn't have a whole lot of animals around there when we first got there, but what was really lost was the riparian habitat on the river bottom. And we really do believe that this trust fund that could be used to acquire other public lands or new public lands on the Missouri upstream from Canyon Ferry and the conservation easements from willing sellers -- we don't want to get in the position of anybody thinking anybody is bullying anybody around with this fund, but always from willing sellers and willing participants -- we think that we can replace that lost riparian habitat to some extent with preserving some public land upstream of the river.

I think, Senator, this bill is good for all of the stakeholders. It can pass -- given where we are in little old Montana, it can only pass if all of our Congressional Delegation is dead behind this thing and works hard to ensure its passage.

We're pleased with the progress. We appreciate the work that you've done very much. We also appreciate the work of Representative Hill and Congressman Burns -- or Senator Burns. Boy, I'll be in trouble now. And we commit our efforts, our committee and the Association, to helping you get this bill passed. We really appreciate it. Thank you.