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DTO meeting: Utilities spokewoman explains position concering Soda Springs Dam

By Eric Fetters
The News-Review

Though PacifiCorp officials ended talks with the U.S. Forest Service about relicensing the North Umpqua Hydroelectric Project, the utility still hopes a settlement can be reached.

Terry Flores, hydro licensing director with Portland-based PacifiCorp, said the company is working on a revised proposal in its bid to relicense the electric-generation project while keeping Soda Springs Dam.

We’re scrambling to put a new licensing package together,” she told members of the Douglas Timber operators this morning in Roseburg. “We’re still hoping there might be some change to get settlement talks going again.”

She said PacifiCorp’s goal is to keep differences over the hydro project out of a courtroom.

In November, negotiators with PacifiCorp, Pacific Power’s parent company, withdrew from discussions with Forest Service officials when it looked like the two had reached an impasse over Soda Springs Dam.

The dam is the furthest downstream of eight dams in the hydroelectric project on the North Umpqua River east of Roseburg. The 50-year-old project consists of the dams with 10 generating plants connected by 44 miles of canals and flumes.

The Soda Springs Dam, rising 126 feet above the bedrock, primarily controls the flow of the river after it passes through the upstream dams. This plant normally produces only ll out of the 185 megawatts generated by the series of dams, though Flores argued Soda Springs’ output is important. The power the dam produces–enough for 9,000 homes–is used during times of peak demand by electric customers.

“So Soda Springs Dam has a pretty important and unique role in how the project operates,” Flores said. “It’s not just ll megawatts.”

The electricity from the project, which gets mixed into the larger regional power grid, is used mostly in the Northwest, though some is sold to California, Flores said.

Because the dams are on Forest Service land, the agency has a say with a range of other state and federal agencies in the dam relicensing process. And officials with the Forest Service say Soda Springs Dam’s impact on the river flow and fish populations is significant.

PacifiCorp did a watershed analysis as required by President Clinton’ s Forest Plan. Based on that study and others, the Forest Service has concluded that removing the dam may be the best option for correcting environmental impacts.

The Forest Service said the dam must be removed if PacifiCorp wanted its project relicensed. That’s when the utility balked, Flores said.

“We felt, being given the choice of volunteering to remove the dam or being forced to, that we had to exit the negotiations,” Flores said, adding that PacifiCorp had generally cooperated well up to that point.

“I’m really proud how the company has handled the relicensing. I think we tried hard to do the right thing.” including ending the talks when it did, she said.

Flores said the company thinks allowing the Forest Service to dictate removal of a dam would set a bad precedent, opening the door for other dams to be taken out.

There are other options to dam removal that could work, she said. In the company’s opinion, removal of the dam would not dramatically improve the river conditions for the fish that most need it — coho salmon and sea run cutthroat trout.

But, she repeated, the company has not given up on agreeing to a solution in the now 8-year-old process to relicense the dam for the next 30-50 years.

Don Ostby, Umpqua National Forest supervisor, said that news encouraged him.nHe emphasized he does not want the issue to become so polarized that the sides cannot continue to talk.

“I’m encouraging PacifiCorp to return to the settlement, but I can’t force them and I don’t want to force them. They have to decide it’s in their own best interest,” Ostby said after Flores spoke.

Others in the audience said they think the Forest Service needs to bend more than Pacific Power. Dave Sabala, general manager with Douglas Electric Cooperative, said his utility has no direct economic stake in the North Umpqua dams, but he agrees dam removal is not the answer.

“This could get so drawn out it could take 10 or 12 years. Then money could be wasted on attorneys instead of fish mitigation. I would urge the Forest Service to modify its position.” Sabala said.

Roseburg, OR
January 13, 2000

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