By Garret Jaros
PacifiCorp officials have developed a new restoration package to improve wildlife habitat since leaving the settlement talks to relicense the North Umpqua Hydroelectric Project in November.
They said they’re offering a viable alternative to removing Soda Springs Dam, a sticking point in the earlier talks.
All we wanted was an opportunity to go into talks without a precondition of dam removal,” said PacifiCorp spokesman Dave Kvamme this morning. He said that now all the parties have agreed to come back with everything on the table–including removal of the dam, located about 50 miles east of Roseburg.
PacifiCorp has increased the amount it will spend on restoration projects to $37 million.
During the two years of talks, PacifiCorp officials planned on spending $35 million to address fisheries, recreation, erosion, water quality and in-stream flows.
“We knew all along we’d spend a significant amount on all aspects of he river in relicensing, everyone knows that,” said Kvamme. “To be honest with you I don’t know why we upped the amount of money. When we exited talks they said if we came up with a plan as good as dam removal or better they’d consider it, and we have.”
PacifiCorp and Forest Service officials are trying to restart discussions to relicense the North Umpqua Hydroelectric Project, but it is uncertain if all members of the original settlement team will participate.
Umpqua National Forest Supervisor Don Ostby has said that he would only consider further discussions if all of the original settlement team members agreed to come back.
Diana Wales of Roseburg, a member of the original team and an attorney for Umpqua Valley Audubon Society, said PacifiCorp was not told it could return with a new proposal.
“They just walked,” Wales said. “They were not told if they came up with a restoration package that it would be considered. After FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) denied them additional extensions they’ve been telling the media they have these other packages.”
Wales said PacifiCorp sent letters to FERC saying talks were resuming and invited settlement team participants to return to discussions.
“They are dictating the terms, which are totally unacceptable to us,” Wales said. “We have sent a letter to PacifiCorp suggesting alternative terms for resuming settlement talks and we’ve received no response.”
Wales and the other participants have complained to FERC of further delays.
“Because the regular relicensing process has been delayed, PacifiCorp has been operating with an obsolete license for five years,” Wales said.
She said this is about more than just dam removal and that the dam’s owner, PacifiCorp’s parent company Scottish Power, is using this dam as a poster child.
With many dams to relicense in the near future, PacifiCorp officials have said that removing Soda Springs dam would set a bad precedent.
But Kvamme said that going through settlement talks will help the river much sooner than the FERC process.
“Through the standard process you have to go through all the steps before you can make changes and if there is a dispute you have to go court so it takes, even longer, Kvamme said.
Settlement talks were a way for participants to come to an agreement on a set of measures to implement sooner rather than later, Kvamme said.
“We’d prefer a settlement, that’s why we were involved in settlement talks for two years,” Wales said, but she adds the science hasn’t changed and it says dam removal is the best option.
Ostby is interested in PacifiCorp’s proposal, but could still opt for removing the dam, said Umpqua National Forest spokeswoman Cheryl Walters.
Removing Soda Springs Dam would allow salmon and steelhead to reach eight miles of extra spawning habitat in the North Umpqua River, as well as the tributary Fish Creek, considered prime spawning habitat.
It is an ecologically complex project that involves eight dams and 32 miles of open canals and the removal of most of the water from the river to run through these canals and pen stocks and it substantially changes the chemistry of the water, Wales said.
Besides blocking fish, the project violates federal water quality standards for acidity, dissolved oxygen and temperature, said Mikeal Jones, a Forest Service hydrologist.
PacifiCorp has proposed increasing flows to cool off water temperatures and improve oxygen, but can’t do much about the acidity problem but study it, Jones said.
Wales said that some groups are prepared to sue the Forest Service under the National Environmental Policy Act, and a watershed analysis produced for PacifiCorp offers ample scientific evidence for dam removal.
“The Forest Service is going to have a great deal of difficulty at this point walking away from that science,” Wales said.
May 4, 2000