By Jim Feehan
Skagit Valley Herald
Placing fish in elevators and handling a potential eruption of Mount Baker were some of the questions posed to Puget Sound Energy officials at a meeting Thursday to discuss relicensing the utility company’s Baker River dams.
Puget Sound Energy is beginning the process for renewing licenses for its Baker River hydroelectric project.
By 2004, PSE must file an application for a new license to operate the hydroelectric project with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. A license issued in 1956 expires on May 1, 2006. The lower Baker dam began operating in 1925, while the upper Baker dam was completed in 1959.
The lower Baker is located about half a mile north of Concrete, while the upper Baker is several miles north, at the Whatcom-Skagit County line.
During a brief question-and-answer session, a person asked about the effectiveness of fish ladders and fish elevators, instead of the current approach of trucking the salmon around the turbines.
A 700-foot elevator would not very reliable,” said Cary Feldman, PSE manager of environmental strategies. “Trucking has worked well for us for 40 years.”
Young sockeye are trucked around Baker dam and released downriver when they are ready to head to the ocean.
Another questioner asked if the dams could withstand an eruption from nearby Mount Baker.
“We all hope the early warning systems will give us enough time to respond and possibly evacuate the area,” said Bob Barnes, a PSE spokesman. “Baker could turn nasty pretty quick.”
Feldman quipped: “Let me suggest Puget will not accept responsibility if Baker erupts.”
Still others have concerns about salmon restoration at the Baker dams.
Alison Studley of the Skagit Fisheries Enhancement Group said the utility focuses its attention on sockeye and doesn’t address the area’s other four salmon species.
“We would like to see it restored to its previous levels before the dams were put in,” Studley said. “Before the dams, all five species flourished in the area.”
The Baker complex, which is PSE’s largest hydroelectric project, generates 175 megawatts of power, enough to light 50,000 houses.
Officials from the Bellevue based utility detailed the relicensing process and explained why it wants to pursue an alternative licensing procedure instead of the traditional three-stage consultation process.
The traditional approach has less local control and is too lengthy, said Connie Freeland, manager of the Baker River Relicense Project.
The utility hasn’t been issued its original license on its White River Project in King County, 19 years after it initially sought approval from the feds. Another license request has taken 12 years with still no approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Freeland said.
“This is like a long sprint vs. a marathon,” said Cary Feldmann, PSE manager of environmental strategies.
The utility said it hopes to file its notice of intent to relicense with Federal Energy Regulatory Commission by September. Operators of dams are required to file a notice of intent five years before the current license expires.
The next public meeting on the Baker River Project relicensing is scheduled for April 26 in Mount Vernon.
Skagit Valley Herald
Mount Vernon, WA
March 31, 2000