By Joe Dennis
MOSES LAKE – Concerns over the threat of dam breaching and competition from other entities were the major topic addressed by speakers during a Grant PUD relicensing meeting Wednesday afternoon at the Moses Lake Convention Center.
The meeting was one of two held Wednesday to report on the district’s progress in preparing an application for relicensing of its Priest Rapids Hydorelectric Project.
Following the afternoon session, an evening meeting was held covering the same information.
In addition to offering an opportunity to submit formal testimony on relicensing, the session provided the public and representatives of interested governmental agencies and tribes a chance to meet informally with the district relicensing staff.
Although the district’s 50-year Iicense to operate Priest Rapids and Wanapum dams is not up for renewal until 2005, the PUD is already in the second year of a lengthy relicensing process, PUD commission chairman Dean Hagerty said in opening reinarks.
We are well into the second year of the process and we view relicensing as an opportunity to work with all interested parties. Hopefully we will satisfy the most important concerns about continued operation of the project,” he said, terming Hydroelectric power a clean, nonpolluting renewable enrgy source.
“The water of the Columbia River is a natural resource that represents the past, present and future of this area,” Hagerty said.
Linda Jones, the district’s relicensing manager, noted that while the PUD will not formally file it’s relicense application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) until October of 2003 public comment is an important part of the process
The public process leading upto filing is required by FERC, and this meeting allows you the opportunity to speak,” she explained.
In addition to hearing verbal testimony, Jones said written comments on studies and resource issues will be accepted by the district through Oct. 30.
Areas covered by solution groups formed to recommend solutions to concerns expressed about operation of the project cover the areas of dam operations, fish and water quality, wildlife and botanical issues, cultural resources, land use.
But iather than addressing specific issues addressed by the solution group, public comment focused on concern about dam breaching, power of federal agencies such as the National Marine Fisheries Service, and the possibility Grant PUD may lose the Iicense to a competitor.
In addition, Mattawa resident Jim Curdy argued that a treaty between the U.S. and Canada concerning Columbia River dams and water storage prohibits dam breeching and guarantees continued operation of Priest Rapids and Wanapum dams.
Curdy urged the PUD to stress that argument in its relicensing application.
Al Willis, a Grant County resident who grew up in the Methow Valley expressed strong concern about the future of the project in light of agency decisions that have put Methow Valley water rights in peril.
“A precedent is being set and it will have an impact on us in the future,” he said, asking “Who is calling the shots?”
“The people who live in this area should have the most say, not bureaucrats in Washington D.C.,” he said, warning that if the people of Grant County don’t take a stand on relicensing and dam removal they “will be in real trouble.”
In response to a concern expressed by Ann Rogers, who farms with her husband, about competition for the license, Jones stressed the district enjoys an incumbent preferences meaning any competitors must show they can do a better job of operating the project while protecting cultural and natural resources.
Because of this, other entities cannot take the work done by the PUD and file a competing license. they must go to the expense of proving they have a better plan, she explained.
Expressing frustration felt by many members of the public in the audience. Julius Szabo of Moses Lake asked what could be done to bring salmon issues into a more realistic atmosphere.
“The importance of salmon have been blown all out of proportion. What can be done about it?” he asked, warning, “It is only a matter of time until they push to the point where they arrive at a utopia where the Columbia River goes back to a natural state where there is no room for humans.”
Larry Peterson, a former PUD manager now representing the
Port of Moses Lake, praised the foresight of the PUD commissioners who obtained the original Iicense.
“When the project was originally built it did not provide the cheapest power around. It took 20 or 25 years for the project to really become attractive, but it is critical to have if we are going to continue to grow in an orderly and diversified way. That should be strongly stated during the relicensing process,” he said.
Grant Co. Journal
August 31, 2000