By JESSE BURKHARDT
Klickitat County will no longer contest the removal of Condit Dam on the White Salmon River.
On Nov. 9, Klickitat County finalized a three-way deal among Klickitat County, Skamania County, and PacifiCorp -- the Portland-based utility company that owns the 1913-era dam -- to allow Condit Dam to be decommissioned and removed.
With the deal, both Klickitat County and Skamania County have agreed to no longer try to block dam removal.
In a 105-page agreement voted on and officially approved by the Klickitat County Board of Commissioners on Nov. 9, the counties agreed not to file any further comments or appeals regarding removal of the hydro-electric facility -- clearing the way for PacifiCorp to take out the dam in late 2011.
Klickitat County Commissioner David Sauter said he was relieved the lengthy negotiating process has ended.
"We've been working intensively with PacifiCorp for the last 18 months," said Sauter. "This has been a contentious issue for over a decade now. We're just glad to get some closure with it."
Sauter explained that he believes the agreement is a good one for Klickitat County.
"The county's interests were met," Sauter pointed out. "In the end, it's PacifiCorp's dam and if they want to remove it, that's their business. Our concern is the impact to local taxpayers and to the environment. Our concerns were met, and there is no reason for us to stand in the way."
Klickitat County Commissioner Rex Johnston agreed.
"We got the best deal we could for the county. We worked real hard on it, and I'm real happy with it," said Johnston.
The dam crosses the White Salmon River about three miles up from where it flows into the Columbia River. One side of the dam is in Klickitat County, the other in Skamania County.
The two counties presented a united front in negotiations with PacifiCorp over dam removal.
"Klickitat County negotiated on Skamania County's behalf," explained Sauter.
The Skamania County Commissioners are expected to ratify the deal on Nov. 16.
"Reaching agreement with the counties allows us to continue moving forward on the decommissioning of the Condit project," said Todd Olson, project manager for PacifiCorp.
According to PacifiCorp representatives, PacifiCorp is still waiting to obtain a "Section 404" permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which the company originally applied for in July 2004. PacifiCorp is also awaiting a "surrender order" from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission which will finalize removal specifications and resource management plans.
Sauter added that the county is not necessarily in favor of the dam coming out, but will not try to stop PacifiCorp from doing what it believes is best regarding the dam.
"We're not supporting dam removal, but we have stopped our opposition," Sauter explained. "We're neutral now."
Among the key provisions of the deal with PacifiCorp:
The Northwestern Lake bridge must be preserved at PacifiCorp's expense. PacifiCorp will essentially rebuild the bridge. "Everything but the deck will be new, and the work must be completed before the dam is taken out," said Sauter.
PacifiCorp will transfer its left over water rights from the hydro-electric source to Klickitat County.
PacifiCorp will give $675,000 to the county to mitigate for unspecified "community impacts" caused by dam removal. The money will go into the county's reserve funds, with no restrictions on how it can be used.
PacifiCorp will be completely responsible for cleanup of the site, with no cost cap limiting the amount that PacifiCorp must spend to ensure sufficient cleanup. No taxpayer dollars will be spent on the cleanup.
Northwestern Lake Park will remain open to the public.
Sauter said the dam removal process should go relatively swiftly now that the counties are no longer blocking the way.
"FERC (the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) listens closely to the county, and that was part of our negotiating stance," said Sauter. "The certainty of scheduling had a lot of value to PacifiCorp."
Already, PacifiCorp is contracting for the demolition work.
"We are gaining confidence these elements will fall into place in order for Condit to be removed in the fall of 2011," said Olson. "However, an acceptable surrender order and finalization of the overall decommissioning budget are crucial to this project going forward."
"It's a big relief to be done with this and get some closure and an end to uncertainty. The county has invested heavily in this; over half a million in legal fees have gone in to this," Sauter said. "I think we've taken a balanced, reasonable approach."