In the latest in a series of unpredictable twists and turns regarding the proposed removal of Condit Dam, PacifiCorp is defending its call for a `time out' from the federal agency that will issue a key ruling on the future of the dam.
The 1913-era dam is located on the White Salmon River, approximately three miles from where it flows into the Columbia River.
With about half of the dam in Klickitat County and the other half in Skamania County, the two jurisdictions have mounted a joint effort in an ongoing campaign to derail the Settlement Agreement, which outlines a plan for removal of Condit Dam. The counties' efforts have included engaging attorneys and filing documents with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).
"The counties have clearly stated their concerns on how removal of the dam will devastate some of the area's unique resources," noted Skamania County Prosecuting Attorney Bradley Andersen, who added that he believes PacifiCorp is backing away from an earlier commitment to obtain "any local, regional, or state permits, licenses, or authorizations associated with the proposed dam removal."
The Settlement Agreement, reached in 1999, outlined a plan for decommissioning and removing the hydroelectric facility by 2006. It was signed by PacifiCorp, owner of the dam, Indian tribal leaders, several environmental groups, and a handful of federal agencies.
PacifiCorp's recent motion called for a temporary abeyance of action on its application for approval of the Settlement Agreement.
"PacifiCorp, licensee of the Condit Hydroelectric Project ... respectfully moves the Commission to abey issuance of any order on PacifiCorp's pending Application for Amendment of License and for Approval of Offer of Settlement, which the Commission recently has characterized as an application for a surrender order, until after PacifiCorp has had an opportunity to consult with the other settlement parties and to develop and submit comments suggesting an approach to surrender of the Project license that will comport with Commission precedent and allow PacifiCorp to implement the essential aspects of the Settlement Agreement," read an excerpt from the PacifiCorp filing.
The Settlement Agreement deal calls for PacifiCorp's dam removal expenses to be capped at $17.15 million, a provision the counties are blasting as unfair.
"It is unfair for PacifiCorp to arbitrarily set its financial limit on the cost to remove the dam," said Andersen. "Make no mistake, these costs will then be borne by the local communities and the general taxpayers."
Following PacifiCorp's delaying move, Tim O'Neill, prosecuting attorney for Klickitat County, pointed to "fundamental flaws" in PacifiCorp's position regarding Condit Dam.
"It appears that PacifiCorp is aware that its environmental analysis of the dam removal alternative is flawed, and it is seeking additional time to prepare a fallback strategy," O'Neill said.
"We've known all along this was not going to be an easy process," responded Dave Kvamme, communications business partner for PacifiCorp.
Kvamme rejected claims made in a press release from the Skamania County Prosecuting Attorney's Office that PacifiCorp is "sidestepping" local jurisdictions in their plans to remove Condit Dam.
"I don't think that's our purpose," Kvamme said. "We've tried to seek all the necessary permits to make dam removal happen."
Kvamme added that there is no effort to renegotiate the Settlement Agreement, and no intent to delay removal of the dam.
"That is not the case at all," Kvamme said. "We're in the midst of a procedure now whereby we've asked to abey the commission's ruling. That's to allow us to provide additional information to help the commissioners. This is uncharted waters for FERC. They're in the businesses of issuing licenses. It was not until recently that utilities have come to them with decommissioning proposals. All we're asking for is a little breathing room to help the commissioners find a pathway to keep the key parts of the Settlement Agreement."
A deadline is fast approaching for PacifiCorp: If FERC has not approved the Settlement Agreement by Sept. 22, 2002, PacifiCorp has the option of withdrawing from the agreement.
However, Gail Miller, project manager for the Condit hydroelectric facility, said there was no intent to walk away from the decommissioning plan.
"FERC has not committed to any timing of the order, but hopefully it will be prior to Sept. 22," Miller added.