Chester hydroproject will start
By Joyce Edlefsen
ASHTON — After a few months’ delay, Fall River Rural Electric Cooperative has received verbal confirmation it may proceed with work to build a $15 million hydroelectric project at the site of the existing Chester Dam.
The project had been all set to go last fall. It had been hailed as a win-win project for the environmentally low-impact power its generators would project and for the benefit to the fisheries with the installation of fish ladders at the headworks of two canals that divert water at the site.
Several years of work had been completed with state and federal agencies and conservation organizations to reach a settlement agreement on the project, and a public groundbreaking ceremony was held.
The design of the project was changed, with three smaller turbines in the plans instead of two larger ones.
Optimal use of the three turbines would mean more cubic feet per second of water would be required — some 4,050 cfs. The result would likely mean more fish would be drawn into the instant death of the turbines — an outcome that wasn’t acceptable to the folks who had worked for – so long on the settlement agreement to get federal approval of the project.
According to Fall River REC Manager Brian Case there was some discussion back and forth with the REC and those who signed the settlement, but when it became apparent that the talking might lead to reopening the settlement, the company decided against seeking higher water flows.
Water flows were the major problem the groups and agencies had with the change in design.
So Fall River agreed to keep flows at the approved level of 3,500 cfs. while it will install three rather than two turbines because it will save the company money.
Fall River also will build fish-bypass structures near the turbines, though they won’t be required to be used until or if the flows are increased and the turbines used at maximum levels, Case said.
When it is completed, the project willgenerate 3.3 megawatts of power By agreeing to lower flows, Fall River is giving up capacity. A maximum flows the generators could project up 3 megawatts, Case said.
Those signing the settlement including the Henry’s Fork Foundation, Trout Unlimited, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Forest Service signed a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission detailing their objections to the design changes, with the major objection being the increase in water flows according to Jim DeRito of the Henry’s Fork Foundation.
The letter was similar to one sent early to the agency by the Idaho Fish and Game.
Keeping the flow at the originally agreed upon 3,500 cfs "was critical to us from a fisheries standpoint,” De Rito says. "It was a very clearly stated opinion in our letter.”
DeRito says he’s pleased the company also plans to build in the bypass structure.
He said most of those who have spent several years working on the project are happy to see it finally moving ahead.
Likewise Kim Goodman Trotter of Trout Unlimited said she was happy the decision was to keep the flows at 3500 cfs as agreed to in the settlement.
The discussion about the changes delayed the start of the project for several months, but Case is hopeful the time lost may be made up.
The economic downturn has actually worked so far in favor of the project, he said. Costs were lower for materials than originally estimated, and he thinks it likely was easier to get the crews to be on the job site so quickly once FERC gave the OK.
Hill Brothers Excavating started Monday to build a temporary road into the Chester Hydroproject construction site to access the upstream boat-takeout spot where boats that have floated downstream are taken out of the Henry’s Fork just upstream from the dam. A temporary takeout spot will be developed for use during construction. The takeout below the dam won’t be affected by the project except during blasting.
During the course of the project, which is scheduled to be done in October 2010, about 40 people will be employed by Fall River as laborers and by various subcontractors.
Because blasting may be required during parts of the project, there could be some disruption in access, Case said.
The Henry’s Fork Foundation Web site, www.henrysfork.org, will have a link to information about the Chester project with access information and details if the site will be closed temporarily for blasting. — Joyce Edleften