Summer construction of a new McKenzie River landing is stalled by a federally ordered environmental review
By Susan Palmer
A new McKenzie River boat ramp planned for construction this summer will have to wait for an environmental review that could push completion into 2010, well past the federal deadline for the project.The Eugene Water & Electric Board, which committed to constructing the landing below Goodpasture Covered Bridge, already had put it out for bid and selected a contractor, but last week had to rescind the paperwork that would have moved the project forward, utility spokesman Joe Harwood said.
Oddly enough, it’s the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission – the same agency that set the completion deadline – that told EWEB earlier this month it had begun work on the environmental analysis, a process that could take several months, Harwood said.
The step seems like overkill to EWEB Commissioner John Brown, who believes that the utility has met all the local, state and federal permitting requirements for the project.
EWEB completed an environmental assessment of the impacts of the boat ramp in August 2008 and found no likely adverse effects on species at risk of extinction, he said.
“It’s the bureaucracy of government that is so frustrating,” Brown said. “When EWEB is light years ahead of everyone else at protecting that river, it just aggravates the hell out of me.”
The story of the Goodpasture boat landing is a convoluted one. It goes back at least a decade to when EWEB renewed its federal license to generate power at the Leaburg-Walterville hydroelectric project.
The utility initially planned to raise the level of Leaburg Lake by 18 inches in order to increase the flow into Leaburg canal for greater power generation.
Raising the lake would have swamped Ike’s boat ramp, so the federal energy commission asked the utility to build a new landing area to offset the loss.
EWEB ended up only raising the lake 6 inches, which kept Ike’s landing above water, and the utility asked permission to drop the new boat ramp. However, the federal agency insisted on it and set a September 2009 deadline for its completion.
After several public meetings and community debates about the merits of several locations, EWEB settled on the Goodpasture site, about a mile downstream of the covered bridge. The agency went about getting permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the state Division of Lands, Lane County and the state Department of Fish & Wildlife.
Federal energy commission spokeswoman Celeste Miller said the decision for another environmental analysis came about because the boat ramp is not at the original location EWEB proposed.
That answer confounds EWEB spokesman Joe Harwood, who said the Goodpasture boat ramp was the only location EWEB committed to after reviewing five options.
“I’m not quite sure why (the federal energy commission) is saying we chose one site and changed our minds,” Harwood said. Besides EWEB’s separate analysis of the biological impacts of the boat landing, the utility had also produced an environmental impact statement for Leaburg/Walterville during the relicensing effort.
“(The commission) has not required any separate (environmental) analysis for any of the other licensure processes, so this came out of deep, deep left field,” Harwood said.
State and federal rules protecting fish limit work within the river to the months of July and August, Harwood said. If the federal energy commission’s environmental analysis takes more than a couple of months, it will be 2010 before the boat ramp gets built, he said.
If that’s the case, said commission spokeswoman Miller, EWEB will need to file a request for an extension to complete the landing.