By Janelle Atyeo
NEWPORT – Pend Oreille County commissioners officially signed off on a agreement over the next 10 years of impact payments for Boundary Dam, ending two years of heated negotiations with dam owners Seattle City Light.
The Seattle City Council has yet to put its signature to the document. City Light officials refused to issue a statement about the agreement until after the next council meeting, Sept. 20.
The county commissioners signed the agreement Tuesday, August 24, but it wasn’t on their meeting agenda. Chairwoman Diane Wear said county prosecuter Tom Metzger and SCL’s attorney had been going back and forth with editing and once Metzger was comfortable with the document, he brought it to the commissioners. No press release was issued at that time because Seattle has yet to sign it, Wear said.
The agreement mirrors the draft contract released in early August.
The contract totals $19 million over 10 years. This year’s payment totals $1.39 million.
The county’s first payment for 2010 will come within 10 days of Seattle signing the contract — likely before Oct. 1. It will total $697,000. Another payment will come before Dec 10. In future years, payments will come quarterly which is new for this agreement and will help the county cash flow.
The north county towns and three county school districts have been reviewing a Seattle inspired new term of the agreement. As part of the deal, they must now waive their rights to intervene with Boundary Dams relicensing process. As a relicensing settlement. Seattle’s paying the county an additional $3 million over the length of this contract. The county has agreed to give this entire amount to the Selkirk School District for construction of a new school.
The entities must also fully support the Sullivan Creek agree-ment, which involves tearing down Mill Pond Dam in north Pend Oreille County, The commissioners have spoken out against this project. but their comments will be withdrawn,they said this week.
The Pend Oreille County board filed comments with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in June noting their worries about possible impacts on recreation, historical resources and property values if Mill Pond Dam is removed as proposed.
The county’s June letter, signed by commission chairwoman Diane Wear, was filed on the last day to comment to PERC. Attorneys from Perkins Cole who the county had hired, helped compile the county’s comments.
According to the agreement signed last week, support must continue the term of Boundary’s new license, which could be 30 or 50years. Wear said the county’s change in stance is part of the negotiation process.
"There’s give and take on both sides and that would be part of the negotiation process, she said when asked if the county wasn’t still concerned with the Mill Pond Dam plan.
Though some area residents are against removing Mill Pond, the commisioners’ comments in June were not directly opposed to the plan. Rather, they wrote that they felt a more in-depth study of the impacts is due.
"The loss of the Mill Pond Dam as a historical and cultural resource to our community is a severe blow to the tourism of the area,” the commissioners wrote to FERC.
Wear said compared to the initial offer, this contract is a significant improvement. The initial offer by Seattle City Light was below what they paid in the past or about $14 million over 10 years.
Most of the license settlement portion of the new contract will go to the Selkirk School District. To put toward a new consolidated school building, the district will receive payments totaling $3,170,000. whereas Cusick will get $26,000 each year and Newport $32,000.
Selkirk’s payments will start around $100,000 per year for the first three years. then jump to $950,000 per year for 2013, 2014 and 2015. For the remaining four years of the contract, Selkirk will not get any further funding.
The towns of Metaline, Metaline Falls and Ione will get $34,000 this year, and that amount will increase by $500 per year.