According to a Sept. 12 press release from the Klickitat County Prosecuting Attorney's Office, a consultant for the Washington Department of Ecology has "rejected" plans to take out Condit Dam.
"The Washington Department of Ecology (DOE) just released the report of its own consultant, URS Corp., on PacifiCorp's proposal to remove Condit Dam along the White Salmon River. URS reports that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's (FERC) analysis and disclosure of the environmental impacts of removing Condit Dam is inadequate and inconsistent with the state of Washington's environmental standards," read the opening paragraph of the two-page document.
Klickitat County Prosecuting Attorney Tim O'Neill is listed as the contact person on the press release, which came with the headline, "DOE's consultant rejects proposed removal of Condit Dam."
However, representatives from both DOE and PacifiCorp, the utility that owns the dam, said the Prosecuting Attorney's press release was "not accurate."
"I don't think the consultant's report is being characterized accurately," said Joye Redfield-Wilder, a spokesperson for DOE. "The consultant in no way is rejecting the proposed removal method. The consultant's analysis does show we need to do more analysis on impacts and ways to mitigate for those. This is not `rejecting.' The FERC EIS has already covered probably 90 percent of our needs, but we found areas that need further analysis."
Condit Dam is on the White Salmon River approximately three and a half miles up from the Columbia River. PacifiCorp, a Portland-based utility, has proposed decommissioning and removing the 1913-era dam in 2006. A "Settlement Agreement" to that effect was signed in 1999.
URS is a Seattle engineering firm hired by DOE to review the initial Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) from FERC, to ensure that state regulations would be met in the event the dam is removed.
"This is DOE's own engineer that reviewed this," said O'Neill. "I think this is very telling. At this point, DOE is reviewing the Clean Water Act certification for dam removal, and has also reviewed FERC's Final Supplemental Final Environmental Impact Study (FSFEIS) regarding dam removal. The consultant [URS] has found many areas of criticism."
PacifiCorp's Gail Miller, project manager for Condit Dam, also questioned the veracity of the press release.
"There are some things in there that raised eyebrows," said Miller. "The headline certainly is inaccurate. The DOE consultant identified areas that could be more fully addressed in the final document. They [DOE] are in the process of identifying what those issues are."
Redfield-Wilder added that the consultant's 30-page report had not yet been officially released when the Prosecuting Attorney's press release came out last Thursday.
"It's kind of interesting the Prosecuting Attorney's Office put this out," she explained on Friday. "We were planning to release this next week [Sept. 18]. Our intention is to require a supplement to FERC's EIS, to make sure state policy mandates are met. The state hired a consultant to review to see if the FERC EIS is adequate for our decision process, so as not to duplicate efforts. And a supplement is going to be required by the state."
An excerpt from the introduction of the URS "final report" states: "Environmental issues related to the removal of the Condit Dam that need to be addressed under the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) are discussed in this report," read the passage. "Many of the issues raised by DOE in comments on the Draft Supplemental Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Condit Hydroelectric Project were answered adequately in the FSFEIS. However, certain responses (or lack of response) do not appear to meet the needs of DOE, and recommendations for additional planning or mitigation measures are provided."
Specific findings in the URS report included:
Water Resources: "A water pipeline crosses Northwestern Lake ... No information is provided about routing or construction methods to be used for reconstruction of the pipeline"; "The actual quantity of concrete ... that would remain in the White Salmon River ... and impacts to the pH of the water within the river are not fully disclosed";
Wetlands: "Wetlands impacts are not adequately disclosed ... the actions required to develop mitigation measures were not well enough described to assess impacts of the mitigation";
Aquatic Resources: "An impact unaccounted for in the FSFEIS is that spawning migrations of both winter and summer-run steelhead would be hampered in the vicinity of the cofferdam site for the year following dam removal"; "The FERC FSFEIS states that two to seven years would be required for the river channel below the dam to completely recover from the release of sediments from behind the dam. This does not address how quickly the fish habitat in the river channel that flows through the reservoir site would return to an equilibrium state ... There could be a considerable temporal loss of habitat";
Transportation: "The FSFEIS does not address the transportation infrastructure (roadways, railroads, and bridges) in the vicinity of Northwestern Lake and downstream of Condit Dam with respect to scour and increased flood levels below the dam";
Air Quality: "The FSFEIS lacks sufficient detail to address air quality (dust) impacts ... wind entrainment of sediments may result in dust for periods longer than a year as vegetation ... becomes re-established";
Aesthetics: "Short and long term impacts from the project on aesthetics and scenic resources are not adequately addressed";
Public Safety: "Pre-dam removal, dam removal, and post-dam removal public safety impacts are not adequately discussed."
O'Neill said the URS report backs up the county's position in opposition to removal of Condit Dam in the manner proposed.
"The county feels, at least I feel, we have received a lot of criticism for our stance taken to make sure FERC, PacifiCorp, and DOE follow the proper course to make sure environmental laws are taken into account," O'Neill explained. "This basically substantiates the county's concerns."
But Dave Kvamme, communications business partner for PacifiCorp, rejected a statement in O'Neill's press release that indicated that Klickitat and Skamania counties "were not parties to the negotiations or the Settlement Agreement."
"We held very public meetings around this process in White Salmon," Kvamme said. "The counties were informed of these meetings. All they had to do was participate. They chose not to. They were very well informed of PacifiCorp's plans. There were meetings -- including one in White Salmon in July 1998 -- well in advance of the Settlement Agreement. For them to slip these statements in again and again is ridiculous."
O'Neill said the press release from his office contained a "summary of information from the attorneys handling the matter for us."
The attorneys are Winston & Strawn, based in Washington, D.C.; and Foster-Pepper, based in Seattle.
"The attorneys wrote a portion of the press release, and asked our reactions," O'Neill said on Friday.
O'Neill added that he had not yet read the complete URS document.
"I've not read the report in full. I'm reacting to the summary I've received from the attorneys," he said.
Redfield-Wilder also criticized a statement in the Prosecuting Attorney's press release that suggested DOE would not objectively review environmental concerns associated with dam removal.
"DOE never abdicated regulatory authority to review the Condit Dam process," Redfield-Wilder explained. "We need to take a look at these issues, and that's what the supplement will do: cover areas that need more analysis."
"The Settlement Agreement did not bind any of the participating agencies to any specific regulatory outcome," added Kvamme.
Kvamme also pointed out that the URS report does not mean there has been any change in PacifiCorp's direction regarding Condit Dam.
"This does not change our overall plan or schedule for removing the facility [in 2006]," Kvamme said. "I'd underscore this is just part of the process."