By Arla Sherphard
Shelton-Mason County Journal
More than a year after Tacoma Power and the Skokomish Tribe agreed to settle their three-decade-long fight over the Cushman Dam properties, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued an order Thursday amending the power company’s license to include the terms of the settlement.
“Getting the federal sign-off was the last seal,” said Chris Gleason, spokesperson for Tacoma Power. “We signed the agreement January 2009, sent it to the commission January 12, 2009 and this is the first we heard back from them.”
The new license grants Tacoma Power the right to operate its two dams within the Cushman Hydroelectric Project until 2048, a 50-year license retroactive to the 1998 license contested by the Skokomish and Tacoma Power itself.
Under the 2009 settlement, the Skokomish will receive a $12.6 million one-time payment for past damages and flood mitigation on the North Fork of the Skokomish River and 7.25 percent of the value of electricity produced from Cushman Dam No. 2.
The tribe also received about 1,400 acres of property, including Camp Cushman, Saltwater Park in Potlatch and the Nalley Farm near Hood Canal where the tribe performed village reawakening ceremonies two weeks ago.
“The Skokomish Indian Tribe is pleased that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commision has approved the issuance of a license for the Cushman Hydroelectric Project, as amended according to the terms of the settlement,” said Joseph Pavel, Skokomish Tribal vice-chairman, in a press release. “We look forward to working with the City (of Tacoma) as partners in the watershed, implementing the conditions of the license.”
It was unusual that FERC accepted the terms of the settlement without making changes, but Tacoma Power representatives worked hard to craft the settlement in the best possible way, Gleason said.
For example, the FERC does not enforce license terms that deal with activities outside a project’s official boundaries.
To satisfy the desires of one of the settlement’s other parties, the Washington state Department of Fish and Wildlife, Tacoma Power agreed to plant resident trout in lakes outside of Lake Cushman.
However, instead of placing this agreement within the license submitted to FERC, which would have likely denied that term since it does not deal with the Cushman properties, Tacoma Power and the state settled an off-license agreement.
Overall, the new license is great because Tacoma Power has been operating on short-term leases, Gleason said.
“We’ve been kind of in limbo for the last 36 years and now the limbo is gone,” she said. “This lets us know we can operate power out of Cushman for a long time to come.”