By N.S. Nokkentved
An unpopular hydroelectric project on the Snake River, dying a lingering death, is in its final throes, after a federal agency terminated its license.
Federal officials have canceled the license on a electric project proposed at Auger Falls. Most thought it had died last year after promoters failed to start construction within a deadline set by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which licenses hydroelectric projects.
Cogeneration Inc. of Salt Lake City holds the 1991 license to build and operate a small hydroelectric plant at Auger Falls on the Snake River about three miles downstream of the Perrine Bridge.
When Cogeneration failed to meet a December deadline, FERC in February notified the license holder that the agency intended to cancel the license. Cogeneration did not respond.
FERC then terminated the license May 25, effective 30 days from that day. That still gives Cogeneration until June 26 to resurrect the moribund project. That’s the deadline to request a rehearing.
This is a great day for the mid-Snake River,” said Sara Denniston, river conservationist with Idaho Rivers United.
Former Cogeneration President Steve Harmsen, a Salt Lake City businessman who for years headed the project, said last fall that he no longer was directly involved with the proposal. Harmsen could not be reached Tuesday.
This latest FERC decision is the latest in a long list of setbacks for the proposal. Cogeneration land near Auger Falls was sold at a sheriff’s sale to satisfy liens – twice. The state refused to issue a lease for submerged lands. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers pulled a permit for the project. Idaho Power Co. canceled a contract to buy the power the project would generate.
Critics have questioned the project’s effects on water quality, fish and wildlife, and recreation.
“The middle Snake River now is a state protected river, blocking any future hydropower projects, but Auger Falls was licensed before the protection was imposed”, Denniston said.
“With the demise of this project, the mid-Snake River is finally safe from hydropower development,” she said. “Auger Falls will be protected for generations to come.”
The project’s history dates to 1900.
Delbert “Bill” Block, Twin Falls manager of J-U-B Engineers, local hydro developer Jack Straubhar, and engineer Douglas Preston founded Cogeneration Inc. in 1980.
The three also were part of a group called Rock Creek Joint Ventures that sold the land at Auger Falls to Harmsen for $1.8 million in 1990.
In November 1998, Rock Creek Joint Ventures foreclosed on the land it sold to Harmsen. In March 1999, the former owners of the 550 acres reclaimed ownership of the land at a sheriff’s sale on the steps of the county courthouse.
Rock Creek Joint Ventures entered a “credit bid” of about $2.5 million – the sole bid. In effect, the group got the land in lieu of the money it was owed.
The city has expressed an interest in the land as a public park and as a place where treated sewage could irrigate poplar trees as a way to reduce the amount of pollutants going into the river.
Twin Falls, ID
June 7, 2000