The Washington Post reported in November that the United States Supreme Court will have to decide what Lewis & Clark thought about three rivers in Montana to decide an upcoming case.
And the newspaper was correct. Today, Feb, 22, the Court decided, using the Lewis & Clark journals, that the river was not navigable due to the Great Falls of the Missouri River and thus the state of Montana does not own the bed of the river and cannot tax PPL Montana for hydroeletric dams that it built upon parts of that river bed. http://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt/text/10-218#writing-10-218_OPINION_3
Here was the way the Wahington Post described the case in Nov. 2011.
In PPL Montana v. Montana the Court will have to decide who owns the lands below the three rivers. The case pits the state against a company that operates hydroelectric dams on the waterways.
Both sides claim that the 1805 journals of the Meriwether Lewis and William Clark expedition support their arguments.
Besides deciding questions of law, the justices will be called upon to act as historians and try to discern the navigability of the rivers at the time Montana became a state in 1889. Their task begins with Lewis coming upon the Great Falls of the upper Missouri River in June 1805.
The Supreme Court determined years ago that states own the title to rivers that were navigable at the time of statehood. The question now is whether that ownership is different in segments of a river that might be impassable because of falls or other issues, or is determined by looking at whether the river as a whole is navigable.
The Montana Supreme Court decided the latter. Even though the land on which PPL Montana operated its dams was never treated as belonging to the state. Montana had never claimed it until private citizens acting on the state’s behalf sued in 2003.
It agreed that PPL owed back rent — $53 million and counting.
Twenty-six states are supporting Montana.
Both the state and the company say Lewis and Clark’s experiences make their case.