PacifiCorp, the Portland utility that owns Condit Dam on the White Salmon River, has asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for permission to delay the dam's removal by two years.
"It's fair to say we are talking with our settlement partners about the potential for extension by two years," said Dave Kvamme, communications business partner for PacifiCorp.
The utility made what it characterized as a "business decision" to decommission the 1913-era hydroelectric dam rather than face huge costs associated with relicensing, the need to accommodate fish passage, and possible litigation.
A "Settlement Agreement" was signed in September 1999 that called for removal of the dam. Those who signed the deal with PacifiCorp included several state and federal agencies, environmental groups, the Yakama Nation, and others.
The dam had been scheduled for demolition in October 2006.
Regulatory hurdles and environmental and technical permitting requirements have made the process more expensive than anticipated.
"The permitting costs were growing," Kvamme explained. "This will allow us to accumulate additional revenues."
Originally, PacifiCorp had set the overall cost of what it would pay to remove the dam at a maximum of $17.15 million. The money was intended to cover dam removal costs, mitigation measures related to the demolition project, and enhancement of fisheries in the White Salmon River.
The maximum figure PacifiCorp would agree to pay is expected to climb to approximately $20 million if the delay is approved.
Kvamme pointed out, however, that all of the approximately 20 signatories to the original agreement had to agree to the delay, or the original schedule would remain in place.
"We have to have signatures from all the partners, and we're not there yet," Kvamme explained.
Kvamme added that he didn't see any controversy among the parties to the settlement, as the move to delay does not alter PacifiCorp's end goal.
"I don't think anybody is opposed, because this keeps the dam decommissioning process moving," Kvamme explained. "There are no changes in the overall settlement, just the date would be pushed back to October 2008."
Klickitat County and Skamania County, within which the dam and the Northwestern Lake reservoir created by the dam are located, both have gone on record as being opposed to removal of the dam.
Klickitat County Commissioner Don Struck said he welcomed the news of the possible delay in taking out the dam.
"From my perspective, any delay in removal is good news," Commissioner Struck said.
Commissioner Struck noted that PacifiCorp would also have to meet any relevant county requirements before proceeding with demolition.
"We've begun to make an outline of the local permits that would be required to remove the dam," Struck explained. "I'm glad that PacifiCorp is making an effort to keep us in the loop, and that PacifiCorp seems willing to follow the local permitting processes."
Kvamme said communicating with the two counties was an integral part of the overall process.
"We will continue to work with the counties to see if there is a way to work through the dam decommissioning process with the budget restraints in front of us," Kvamme said.