By Bert Caldwell, Staff writer
Federal regulators could vote to relicense two Avista Corp. dams on the Clark Fork River in as little as 30 days.
A final environmental impact statement for the Noxon Rapids and Cabinet Gorge projects was released this week.
The document allows quick action by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which produced the final version of the EIS as well as a draft published in November.
But Avista’s Tim Swant said he does not expect a decision until late spring, after commission staff has had time to draft a final order granting or denying the license.
Commission officials participated in the three-year process that led to filing of the relicensing applications last February.
Since then, there has been no indication that obtaining the new license will be a problem. State and federal agencies suggested some changes to the draft EIS, but nothing that should delay final commission action.
The earliest the commission’s three members could vote on the proposal is their March 15 meeting in Washington, D.C.
Avista has proposed a living license” that would evolve as studies reveal more about the river and its resources, particularly endangered species like bull trout.
The company has committed $220 million over 45 years to measures what would reverse or minimize impacts the dams have had on the river since construction in the 1950s.
Together, the dams generate 60 percent of Avista’s low-cost hydropower. But the two structures also severed the migratory route of bull trout leaving Lake Pend Oreille to spawn.
Swant said work this year will focus on upgrading recreational facilities on the two reservoirs.
Researchers may also lift tagged juvenile fish around the dams to give them access to the lake, and sample mature fish moving upstream, he said.
Swant said the company must be careful that the fish taken in conjunction with the studies do not deplete the resource.
February 10, 2000