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County Details Concerns On Condit Dam Removal

Prosecuting attorney offers position statement

A statement from the Klickitat County Prosecuting Attorney's Office charges the Washington Department of Ecology (DOE) with "collusion" with PacifiCorp over Condit Dam permitting.

Last week, the Prosecuting Attorney's Office released a statement that criticized actions of the state agency in working with Portland-based PacifiCorp, owner of Condit Dam on the White Salmon River.

"After detailed review of the DOE's proposed changes to the state's water quality standards, Klickitat County has concerns regarding the weakening of certain water quality protections," read an excerpt.

According to Tim O'Neill, Klickitat County Prosecuting Attorney, the county's review of public records obtained from DOE "demonstrates that Ecology has failed to conduct the rulemaking process in a fair and equitable manner."

A portion of DOE's draft water quality standards relates to the water quality impacts stemming from the proposed removal of Condit Dam.

"The county believes Ecology allowed a private corporation, PacifiCorp, to influence the rulemaking process to facilitate rule changes that would allow for PacifiCorp to remove Condit Dam by blasting a hole in the dam and releasing approximately 2.4 million cubic yards of sediment into the Lower White Salmon River without appropriate environmental safeguards," O'Neill said. "The Lower White Salmon provides habitat for federally listed endangered species. A basic question that the county has been asking for some time on Condit Dam is whether Ecology's signing of the Condit Dam Settlement Agreement and its dual responsibility as a permitting agency can be carried out in a fair and unbiased manner. Based on the county's review of public records in Ecology's offices, it is clear that Ecology has prejudged the outcome of the Condit Dam project, prejudged the outcome of the SEPA [State Environmental Protection Act] process, and prejudged the outcome of ... related permit processes."

Tom Tebb, water quality section manager from the DOE's regional office in Yakima, explained that DOE was considering a variety of water issues.

"We're revising water quality standards statewide," Tebb said. "Many dams are undergoing FERC [Federal Energy Regulatory Commission] relicensing. We have looked at the dam issue, not just for Condit Dam, but for all the dams in Washington. We recognize these dams will reach the end of their usefulness someday, and we're looking for a way to take them apart in such a way that minimizes water impacts. I know folks will see it differently if they want to, and that's just the way it is."

Tebb added that it's standard for DOE to work with companies to help them reach compliance with regulations.

"What we're trying to do is set up a framework to figure ways to work with them," Tebb explained. "We give folks an opportunity to get the problem fixed. We don't say, `comply by tomorrow or you'll get fined.' We work with them in a constructive way to help them get in compliance. Unfortunately, the Klickitat County Prosecuting Attorney feels we're doing this on the basis of trying to allow Condit to be removed. That's not our intent. Unfortunately, they take personal shots at us. But that's how they want to play the game."

According to O'Neill, DOE records describe the environmental impact of dam removal as "significant acute degradation of water quality over three plus years."

Tebb saw irony in Klickitat County's position.

"All the other counties in the state are saying we're too stringent, it's too hard to meet water quality standards," Tebb explained. "But we hear Klickitat County saying we're making it too easy."

The county contend that in June 1999, PacifiCorp sent a letter to DOE stating "significant rulemaking actions by Ecology will be necessary to facilitate permitting for Project Removal."

Just seven days later, according to the Prosecuting Attorney's Office, "Ecology's representative responded he had advised the Ecology Water Quality Program `to modify the regulation or adopt a new regulation to accommodate projects such as this one [Condit Dam].' The letter also went on to say that Ecology staff were aware that current regulations might not permit the proposed method of removal. County officials are particularly concerned that the documents clearly show that PacifiCorp's own attorney drafted proposed rule changes, and met with Ecology staff to refine the proposed language," read a portion of the statement from the Prosecuting Attorney's Office.

Tebb rejected the charges.

"It wasn't like we went to PacifiCorp and said, `hey, give us the language you want.' This was a collaborative effort not just with PacifiCorp, but with all the power companies, utilities, public utility districts, and the federal government. We went to them and asked for help in recognizing problems. It's not an easy issue, and our document is not perfect. That's why it's a draft and we're accepting public input."

Tebb invited citizens to make their own decisions about DOE's ongoing water quality revision process.

"Ask us questions, and try to understand we're dealing with major revisions," Tebb said. "The dam issue is a small piece of this process."

The DOE website is:

www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/wq/swqs/

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