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The Clarks Fork plays havoc with Fromberg homeowners along the river
By Eleanor Guerrero
CCN Senior Reporter
Thursday, May 31, 2018

Photos by Eleanor Guerrero

Greg Letourneau points to where the river rose Monday, May 28, as he watches its daily rise and fall.

Greg Letourneau regularly measures the rise and fall of the Clarks Fork; he marked an 8-foot line (set in the dark water line of the middle pillar) under the bridge.

An Edgar farmhouse close to the river already has its corrals flooded.

Magdalena Kittmer is sitting on borrowed time. Her home is 40 feet or less away from the raging Clarks Fork and she knows it will gouge yards of bank this season which has yet to peak. It’s already taken 75 feet of her land. This past Tuesday, it sloughed off about 3.5 feet in one day alone. Kittmer said the river takes at least 10 feet each spring. “Dredge the river!” she pleads to those who will listen on Tuesday, May 29. She is afraid to walk near the last ten feet of her property which is filled with one huge Weeping Birch, flowers, old maples, pines and fruit trees. One recently devoured large pine lies half sunken in the river. She waits and watches.

Kittmer said there are two islands under the water, one smack in the middle of the river across from her. She believes dredging would resolve the problem of her quickly deteriorating banks along the west side and those of her neighbors.

The 88 year old former seamstress is in despair. “No matter who I talk to or who looks at it, nobody seems to want to do anything about it.” Last week she said, “FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Act) went through the gate (to see the river).” He did not stop by the house to talk with her.

“There was a meeting earlier in the week at the school. He talked to us generally,” said Kittmer. “I was surprised. It was a waste of time.” This past week she said she did not go to the meeting.

According to Kittmer and her son Fred, the river rose a foot from Friday, May 18 to Saturday, May

19. “And it rose another 8 inches on Monday (May 21)”, said Fred. More rain is forecast for the week of the 21st on and the river is not expected to peak with snow melt for two more weeks.

Neighbor Gloria Weiss, also on the Clarks Fork said, “It’s when it withdraws that the banks start to collapse. It’s all sand so it gets saturated.” Weiss said the river’s action on the underside also carves it out.

Kittmer said, “FEMA said it would have to be ‘real critical’ for him to do anything! It’s too late anyway.”

“It’s the worst I’ve ever seen!” said Brenda Kansala, Fromberg City Clerk.

Further up, on the north side of the new bridge, Greg LeTourneau surveys the scene with satisfaction. He feels the worst has come and as it has been since the early 1900’s, “The house is still there.” He marked the new bridge with the height of the water and pointed that it had gone down Tuesday morning, May 29, from 7.8 feet to 7 feet. He did not attend the flood update meeting either. He feels he has the matter in hand as best he can. “I dug a hole in my floor, put in a sump pump and a screen,” for the worst case. He tried planting some willows but he said the beavers come every time they bud out and it’s feeding time. He has lost a few trees and a small structure with a window to the river. He was told by locals that they used to gauge the river height by that window. So he dug into the mud and inserted a window near the river where the structure used to be so when it rises they can still gauge the height.

He’s resided there since 2008. The only time the property flooded was when a logjam forced the water onto his property from the west side away from the river. When asked whether he is concerned about loss he does not count on FEMA, nor does he trust local insurance companies. “I use Lloyd’s of London,” he said.

At Edgar bridge, the river is pretty high. It has seeped onto the land of one farm and flooded some corrals. The farmhouse is a bit higher and away. The road is clear although there is some flooding on roadside and it is seeping quite close to the raised railroad tracks in the area between Edgar and Fromberg where the river broadens and swings near the rails. There is some standing water on the west side of the tracks.

Last summer, back in Fromberg, Kittmer took things into her own hands and had a contractor drop cement and rock chunks into the river to build up her bank, spending $700. The county told her to remove them or she would be fined. “I’m retired. Take me to jail!” she said. But she did hire a contractor to remove them. The man said,”‘Merry Christmas” and refused to charge the senior. Kittmer lives there alone after losing her husband ten years ago. It has been her home for 30 years.

When they complained, according to Gloria Weiss, Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation Services Planner, Jeff Mollman said, “The State doesn’t claim ownership of the Clarks Fork River.”

When Weiss asked who owns it he said the landowners. When she asked why they couldn’t riprap it themselves he said there were too many rules and regulations.

The story goes that people across the way complained years ago and the opposite bank was built up. But no one had the details. Until now. Weiss asked an attorney to look into it. She has the papers which she delivered to CCN that show a joint east bank project called “The Guffy Project” between the County, the U.S. Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Carbon County Conservation District in 2011.

“See those logs coming down?” said Kittmer. “That means the river is going up again.

In the meantime, Kittmer continues her plea, “Dredge the river! Dredge it and get it so the water goes down the middle. I don’t think that’s asking too much!”

More next week on “The Guffy Project.”

Upcoming Events

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    Paintbrush Piecers Quilt Guild meeting will be Monday April 22 at 6 p.m. at the Cody Sr. Center. After a short business meeting the program will be a trunk show presented by Betty Hecker, Audrey Clark and Sharon Kaeding from Red Lodge. Meetings are free and guests are welcome. For information contact Marybeth 754-5399
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