Tacoma Power and Skokomish Tribe
Tacoma Power, Skokomish Tribal Nation and state and federal agencies signed historic settlement agreements for Tacoma Power’s Cushman Hydroelectric project during a meeting in Tacoma Jan. 12. The agreements resolve a $5.8 billion damages claim and long standing disputes over the terms of a long term license for Cushman Hydroelectric Project, which is located on the Skokomish River in Mason County.
The licensing settlement agreement concludes nearly two years of negotiations and decades of contention between Tacoma Power, the tribe and the many state and federal agencies that will oversee the implementation of the terms of the agreement.
"This has been a long, arduous process that has taken patience, collaboration and compromise from everyone involved,” said William Gaines, director of Tacoma Public Utilities. "Today is an important day for us, but also an important milestone for hydropower in general. This has been one of the longest hydroelectric relicensing processes in history. We have reason to celebrate.”
The licensing agreement addresses issues that have sparked contention for many years: river restoration, instream flows fish habitat and fish passage improvements, wildlife habitat, restoration of fish populations and recreation.
"This is indeed a momentous occasion, after generations of protest and conflict over the construction and operation of the Cushman Hydroelectric Project by the city of Tacoma, the Skokomish Tribe has finally received recognition and accounting of the devastating effects this project has had on our people,” said Joseph Pavel, Chair of Skokomish Tribal Council. The council voted to approve the settlement earlier this month.
"The impact to the tribe can never be undone, but this agreement represents an opportunity to begin the healing process to the environment the tribe depends upon for its survival. The health and well being of the Skokomish watershed is vital to the Skokomish Tribal culture, tradition, subsistence and economy.”
As part of the settlement and to resolve a $5.8 billion damages claim, Skokomish Tribal Nation will receive money and lands from Tacoma Power including: a $12.6 million one-time cash payment; 7.25 percent of the value of electric production from the Cushman No. 2 powerhouse; transfer of land valued at $23 million including Camp Cushman on Lake Cushman, the 500 acre Nalley Ranch and Saltwater Park on Hood Canal.
The licensing agreement, once accepted by Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), will allow Tacoma Power to operate this important, renewable, electrical generating resource for another 40 years. Tacoma Power will also have the opportunity to construct an additional generator to capture some of the energy from the restoration flows being released into North Fork Skokomish River.
The original federal license for the Cushman Project expired in 1974. Tacoma Power has operated the project under short-term licenses while the parties litigated relicensing. In 1998, FERC issued a license that was broadly appealed. This licensing agreement resolves the settlement parties’ disputes by proposing modifications to the 1998 license. FERC, which issues operating licenses for hydroelectric projects, will thoroughly review the settlement agreement prior to amending the 1998 federal license for the Cushman Hydroelectric Project.
"With the signing and implementation of this settlement we look forward to an ongoing relationship with the city of Tacoma to continue the process of ensuring that the resources we depend upon will be available for generations to come,” said Pavel.
Settlement agreement signers include Tacoma Power, Skokomish Tribal Nation, Bureau of Indian Affairs, National Marine Fisheries Service, United States Forest Service, United States Fish & Wildlife Service, Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife, and Washington Department of Ecology.
”This agreement provides important, long-term habitat improvements for fish and wildlife, as well as enhanced recreational opportunity for fishers,” said Phil Anderson, interim director of the Washington Dept. of Fish & Wildlife. "We applaud the Skokomish Tribe, the city of Tacoma, and other stakeholders in reaching an agreement that will provide fish-friendly stream flows, improved fish passage, more wildlife habitat and increased fishing opportunity for decades to come.