The Associated Press December 6, 2011, 2:22PM ET

Dam dispute draws on Lewis and Clark's travels

U.S. Supreme Court justices will get a history lesson when they hear arguments in a dispute over hydroelectric dams sitting on three Montana rivers.

PPL Montana is appealing a state court ruling that the company must pay rent for use of land beneath the dams.

The eventual Supreme Court ruling could affect property rights beneath streams and rivers all over the nation.

The case may hinge upon the Meriwether Lewis and William Clark expedition that opened up the West. Montana owns the titles to all navigable rivers at the time of statehood.

Both sides cite Lewis and Clark's 1805 portage around the Great Falls of the Missouri River in their arguments on whether the rivers were commercially navigable at the time Montana became a state in 1889.

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