Montana dam dispute sparks debate among historians

By MATT VOLZ | December 7, 2011 | 2:50 AM EST

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A case before the Supreme Court over who owns the riverbeds beneath 10 Montana dams has spurred debate among historians.

PPL Montana is appealing a state court ruling that the company must pay rent to the state for use of the riverbeds.

Montana owns the titles to all commercially navigable rivers at the time of statehood. Both sides are citing Lewis and Clark's 1805 portage around the Great Falls of the Missouri River in their arguments on whether the rivers were commercially navigable.

Seven history professors are backing PPL by saying the Missouri above the falls was not a useful channel of commerce.

But historian Stephenie Ambrose Tubbs, the daughter of historian Stephen Ambrose, says there is no question the river was used for commerce even before the expedition.