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Relicensing: Groups want negotiations to become public, but mediated talks continue

By Garret Jaros
The News-Review

Conservation groups will not continue with negotiations to relicense the North Umpqua Hydroelectric project, but settlement talks will go forward.

Federal and state agencies along with PacifiCorp have agreed to return to mediated talks to relicense the project. The talks will start Wednesday in Portland and finish Dec.15, said mediator Alice Shorett.

Speaking on behalf of the five conservation groups was Penny Lind of Umpqua Watersheds Inc., a Roseburg group.

We have decided no, we are not going to be participating in formal settlement talks,” Lind said. “Today’s laws require that public lands, including the rivers that run through them, are protected or restored to m’eet the habitat needs of fish and wildlife.

“Our laws also demand water quality standards be met to ensure clean, cool water will be provided today and into the future to meet community needs. It’s time these laws were upheld, not avoided at the expense of the natural resource.”

The North Umpqua Hydroelectric project is a system of eight dams and generating plants connected by 44 miles of canals and flumes located at Toketee, about 50 miles east of Roseburg.

The project has been operating on one-year extensions based on the original 50-year license that expired in 1997. Issues with relicensing center around the environmental impacts on fish, wildlife and water. The project, which is entirely within the Umpqua National Forest, doesn’t meet the guidelines of the Northwest Forest Plan. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission had agreed to delay making a decision as long as the parties moved forward in shaping an agreement.

Conservationists were pleased with the watershed analysis paid for by PacifiCorp, but they plan to submit an alternative to FERC.

The environmental and fishing groups are sending a letter to FERC, the agency which issues hydro licenses, requesting that it continue with the formal licensing process which would require federal and state agencies to turn in recommendations sooner rather than later.

“What it really means is federal agencies wotild have to do a review or list mandatory conditions and submit them to FERC,” Lind said. “Then it’s public and no longernconfidential negotiations.”

FERC representatives were present during the last round of negotiations in Portland and they will probably continue to be, Shorett said. The agency is acting in a nondecisional role,” she said.

U.S. Forest Service Supervisor Don Ostby had said before the last round of negotiations, which was the second round, that he would continue only if all of the original settlement team continued to take part.

Ostby could not be reached for comment on Friday, but he issued a release to Forest Service employees before finding out conservation groups would not continue.

“Real progress has been made,” Ostby said in the release. “We are in active discussions regarding how to proceed from here, and there is no doubt that discussions will be ongoing over coming weeks.”

The original settlement talks collapsed after 18 months in November 1999 when PacifiCorp officials walked out over what they say was the Forest Service’s insistence that Soda Springs Dam, the farthest downstream dam, be removed. The last round of talks ended more than a week ago after 120 days because a comprehensive agreement could not be reached.

The News-Review
Roseburg, OR
October 8, 2000

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