Western Cultural, Inc. conducted a class III cultural resource inventory for 3 Rivers Communications for the installation of a fiber optic cable for the Choteau Exchange as they transition their system from copper to fiber optic. This survey was conducted as part of 3 Rivers Communications Fiber To The Home, an ambitious undertaking that will bring fiber optic cable for voice and internet to a wide swath of rural Montana. The fiber optic cable will be buried within the right of way for the entire length, approximately 196 miles. The survey covered 168.7 miles, the remaining 27.3 miles were not surveyed as they had been surveyed within the previous 20 years. Spools of cable will be mounted onto a large, two-track Caterpillar which will open a small trench, place the cable in the trench, and bury the cable in one operation as it proceeds down the right of way. The fiber optic route largely follows highways, county roads, and private drives. The survey corridor and Area of Potential Effect for this project is approximately 30 meters wide, extending from the center line of the road to the side identified by 3 Rivers as the location of the proposed fiber optic cable installation.
3 Rivers Communications provided Western Cultural with plan maps and engineering staking sheets showing the proposed route of the fiber optic installation, primarily situated along the bottom of the road ditch. The installation normally results in an average disturbance approximately five meters wide. Given the small area of potential disturbance, survey transects prioritized higher probability areas within the 30 meter APE, focusing on all undisturbed soil horizons, the start or lip of the cut side of any ditches, and the top of ditches. Expanding the survey corridor beyond the exact route identified in the staking sheets, to a 30 meter wide corridor, provides a considerable buffer for avoiding any cultural resources which may be encountered.
The fiber optic cable installation involves federal funding, therefore a host of federal preservation laws apply to this project, including the National Historic Preservation Act, as amended, the Archaeological and Historic Preservation Act and the Native American Graves Protection and Reparation Act.
The survey of the Choteau exchange recorded a total of 20 new sites and revisited nine previously recorded sites, and located six isolated finds. The 20 new sites include 14 irrigation ditches, are all recommended as Not Eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP), a school house, ranch house, and barn, all of which are recommended as Not Eligible, a rock cairn, recommended as Unevaluated, a single tipi ring, recommended as Unevaluated, and a large, extensive habitation site consisting of dozens of tipi rings, recommended as Unevaluated.
The nine site updates confirmed the original recording and evaluation for the NRHP. 24TT0409, the Great Northern Railroad is Eligible for the NRHP, 24TT0416, the El Dorado Canal is Eligible for the NRHP, the remaining seven sites are all irrigation canals and are all recommended as Not Eligible for listing on the NRHP.