Seven years after oil spill, Montana officials announce plan to boost recreation on Yellowstone River in Laurel, Billings

Posted at 2:22 PM, May 30, 2018

BILLINGS – Montana Gov. Steve Bullock and Attorney General Tim Fox put pen to paper Wednesday along the swollen Yellowstone River in Billings to announce the finalization of the Yellowstone River Recreation Plan.

The plan allocates $2.3 million of the $12 million ExxonMobil settlement from the 2011 Silvertip pipeline rupture near Laurel toward the advancement of recreational facilities along the Yellowstone River. This is to pay back the public for the recreational opportunities they lost resulting from the spill that sent 63,000 gallons of crude oil coursing into the Yellowstone River.

In all, nearly 11,000 acres of property and 85 river miles were included in the cleanup.

The settlement was announced by the governor in 2016. In 2017, the restoration plan was announced.

The Natural Resource Damage Program (NRDP) convened a committee of local citizens who created a plan to use the money to benefit recreation along the Yellowstone River. 

At Wednesday’s gathering at Riverfront Park, Fox noted how proud he was of the work that went into the plan, which he said was a plan for Montana by Montanans.

The plan identifies three key areas to achieve the goal of using these funds to create a better Yellowstone for the public:

  • Improving city parks and public lands bordering the Yellowstone River. 
  • Improving urban fishing opportunities adjacent to the Yellowstone River.   
  • Developing additional access locations or preserving existing access on the Yellowstone River. 

Bullock said that “these projects will improve public access to the river, and improve city parks and public lands that are part of Montanans’ way of life.”

Harley Harris, a spokesman for the Natural Resource Damage Program, said that with the signing of these documents, work on the 19 proposed projects will begin within this calendar year, meaning Billings and Laurel area residents can look forward improvements to recreational areas around the Yellowstone River in the future.

For those interested in the specifics of the proposed projects more information can be found in the project proposal draft.