License conditions for Box Canyon Dam
By Janelle Atyeo
Most every party involved has given its official approval of the settlement over license conditions for Box Canyon Dam.
The settlement allows the dam owner, the Pend Oreille Public Utility District (PUD), to begin work on several fish restoration and environmental mitigation requirements of Box Canyon’s new 50-year license. The projects were on hold since 2005 when the PUD appealed parts of the license.
The settlement puts a cap on the amount the PUD will spend on mitigation measures, whereas the price was open ended before. It could save the district $32.5 million.
"This is a big step forward,” PUD commissioner Dan Peterson said during a county commissioner meeting.
The PUD board was the first to sign the settlement in mid-December. The Kalispel Tribe of Indians council has given approval as has the board that manages the Pend Oreille Newsprint Co., and officials from the U.S. Forest Service. The Department of Interior was expected to sign soon. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) must also review the document.
There has been talk of an official signing ceremony, but no date or place has been determined yet. Local leaders involved in the negotiations praised everyone’s efforts to work together and build a compromise.
Under its contract to purchase power from Box Canyon, Ponderay Newsprint will pay most of the costs of these conditions. The mill’s resident manager Paul Machtolf, said the settlement has resolved some important environmental issues meant to improve the Pend Oreille River habitat. There is still one major relicensing issue over which the mill and the PUD disagree: the cost of the dam’s four new turbines and generators.
The language of the settlement is considered "turbine neutral,” meaning the conditions agreed to in the settlement remain unchanged whether the PUD should continue replacing the turbines as planned or if it should change the scope of the project.
Machtolf said that leaves "an opportunity for us to evaluate what we consider a more sensible and cost effective strategy for the future.”
"We hope this mutual agreement can be the basis of a workable solution to a complicated and difficult project that supports jobs in this community for many years to come,” Machtolf said in a press release.
The settlement changes seven license conditions, including revisions to a trout habitat restoration program, recreation funding, and fish passage both upstream and downstream of the dam and at Calispell Creek.