By: Anne Minnard
Idaho State Journal
Pocatello – Local environmental groups welcome the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’ s decision to terminate the license for a hydroelectric power project near Twin Falls as a strike against further damming the Snake river.
But federal officials say there’s been no change in policy – and company officials who wanted to build the structure and are bitter about what they call close-minded political activism.”
FERC, the federal agency in charge of permitting dams, has announced it will officially terminate Cogeneration Inc.’s license for the Auger Falls Hydropower Project. Nine years after the license was issued, the company still has not started construction.
The decision comes on the heels of a final ruling last week about breaching Maine’s Edwards dam. People on both sides of the Northwest’s salmon recovery debate are calling that move- prompted by concerns about Maine fish runs-a precedent for breaching the four Lower Snake River dams blamed for local salmon and steelbead declines.
“I think that FERC is coming to a new awareness about the impact of dams,” said Sara Denniston of Idaho Rivers United. “I think that they are giving more consideration to new projects. I think they’re also realizing there’s a critical mass as far as how much hydropower a river can stand.”
But Celeste Miller, FERC spokesman disagrees. “The Edwards case was specific to the circumstances.” She said. “We look at every case on a case-by case basis. We haven’t changed the way we license projects.”
Steve Hamden was the president of Cogeneration, which disbanded when the project fell through. He blames the failure of the Auger Falls project on “midlevel federal bureaucrats in conjunction with environmental groups. They were able to slow us down so we were never able to get our finances and permits in sync.”
Hansen said the abandoned project – a water diversion system and not a full – fledged dam – left a planned park, recreational opportunities and public river access in the dust.
“It’s all private property, fenced off so that nobody gets to use it. It was a wonderful project, and it should have happened. This an example of close-minded political activism that doesn’t do anybody any good.” Hansen said the whole process cost his company $3 million.
The proposed 43.6 megawatt dam was licensed in 1991. The FERC license required construction of the project to start by December 17, 1999 but the project was never built because Cogeneration failed to get other necessary permits from the state and federal government.
The biggest setback for the project came in 1996, when the Idaho Land Board denied Cogeneration a submerged lands easement to build the dam on the bed of the Snake River.
Denniston said the dam was defeated in large part due to public opposition, based in the belief that it would have drastically altered the ecological and recreational characteristics of the mid-Snake River.
Idaho State Journal
June 7, 2000