Pact includes ways to protect resources
By Brian Walker
Coeur d’Alene Press
POST FALLS – Avista Utilities on Thursday received a 50-year license to operate its five hydroelectric projects on the Spokane River, including the Post Falls Dam, marking the end of a seven-year process involving 200 stakeholders. The license issued by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission includes measures designed to protect, mitigate and enhance natural resources along the river.
The conditions also reflect settlement agreements with various parties, including the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, federal, state and local natural resource and recreation management agencies, the Sierra Club and other groups.
“We are pleased to complete the relicensing process and look forward to continuing work with stakeholders as we begin implementing conditions of the license,” said Scott Morris, Avista chairman, president and chief executive officer.
Avista’s four other hydroelectric developments on the river include Upper Falls, Monroe Street, Nine Mile and Long Lake, all in Washington.
The former license expired in July 2007. Avista’s dams have been operating under an annual license since. Licenses can range from 30 to 50 years, and Avista requested one for 50 years.
Avista began the relicensing process in 2002. The license is the result of the work of stakeholders who conducted studies, gathered information and made recommendations reflected in Avista’s 2005 application, Avista officials said.
Some of the new conditions that will be implemented include increased minimum flows from Post Falls Dam and recreation water levels on Lake Coeur d’Alene and aesthetic flows in downtown Spokane. Other conditions, such as water quality improvements in the Spokane River and Lake Spokane, enhancements to the fishery resource, wetlands mitigation and improvements to recreation facilities will occur on a timeline in the license.
Avista spokeswoman Anna Scarlett said site agreements associated with the license include improving trails, boat ramps, campgrounds and parks in the corridor, including at Falls and Q’emiln parks in Post Falls.
Avista estimates that the cost to implement the license over 50 years will be about $305 million, which includes a settlement with the Coeur d’Alene Tribe.
Scarlett said the cost to Avista ratepayers is reflected in current rates.
‘This is not going to generate a new rate increase request,” she said.
Avista will review the license to ensure it is consistent with agreements and FERC’s Final Environmental Impact Statement The company has 30 days to request a rehearing with FERC if there are discrepancies.
Post Falls City Administrator Eric Keck said the city looks forward to working with Avista under the new license.
“Overall, this is good news for everyone as environmental prescriptions were addressed in addition to the ability to continue to utilize the river for recreational purposes, and finally provide Avista with the ability to generate more power from green sources,” Keck said.
Coeur d’Alene Tribe spokesman Marc Stewart said the Tribe is pleased the license was issued.
“It means stability to lake levels and the economy with energy,” Stewart said. “It also has environmental protections, which is not only important to the tribe, but everyone.”
One of the last hurdles in the license process was cleared in December when Avista and the Tribe, after 10 years of negotiations, reached an agreement that will pay the Tribe more than $150 million over the life of the license to operate its hydroelectric projects.
The Tribe owns the southern third of Lake Coeur d’Alene, which flows into the river. The agreement compensates the Tribe for past and future use of submerged tribal lands and satisfies Avista’s obligation to mitigate the impacts of the dam on the Tribe’s natural and cultural resources.
The last pending matter in the process was an appeal over Washington’s water quality certification plan, but that was resolved in May. Water quality plans in both states were needed under a new license.