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Condit update: FERC moves dam removal project along

Water pipeline work soon?


The Enterprise

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has given another green light in the ongoing process of decommissioning of Condit Dam.

According to a spokesman for PacifiCorp, the Portland-based utility company that owns the dam, an April 21 ruling makes it likely the 1913-era dam will be removed this year.

"Two weeks ago, I would have said the odds of the dam coming out this year were under 50-50. Now, they are well over 50-50," said PacifiCorp's Tom Gauntt. "Removal in October looks doable and positive."

The White Salmon River flows into the Columbia River 3.3 miles below Condit Dam, while Northwestern Lake extends three miles upstream of the dam.

Among the key points in the April 21 ruling of the FERC commissioners:

PacifiCorp's motion filed April 1, 2011, for an extension of time is dismissed;

Surrender of the license for the Condit Project No. 2342 is made subject to the conditions set forth in ... the Commission's Dec. 16, 2010, order in this proceeding, as modified and supplemented by the conditions herein. The surrender shall not be effective until PacifiCorp has fulfilled these conditions and the Commission's regional engineer, Division of Dam Safety and Inspections-Portland Regional Office; and director, Division of Hydro-power Administration and Compliance, Office of Energy Projects, have issued letters stating that all conditions of the Surrender Order have been satisfied;

This Surrender Order is subject to the conditions submitted by the Washington Department of Ecology under section 401(a)(1) of the Clean Water Act;

Ordering Paragraph of the Commission's Dec. 16, 2010, order is modified to read as follows: The licensee shall commence breaching Condit Dam and draining Northwestern Lake in October 2011 and may continue project operations until breaching the dam.

One of the key steps PacifiCorp has to take care of before the dam can be removed is ensuring that the city's main water transmission line is rerouted.

Currently, the main water line from Buck Creek to White Salmon passes under Northwestern Lake, which will be drained when the dam is removed. At that point, the existing water pipeline -- which was put into place in 1958 -- would be at serious risk of breaking.

As a result, PacifiCorp has committed to replacing nearly three miles of aging 14-inch pipeline with 16-inch pipe in a new alignment. PacifiCorp will also make sure the new water transmission system works before the dam comes out.

The project, which PacifiCorp will pay for in its entirely, is expected to cost about $1.5 million.

White Salmon Mayor David Poucher said the city has signed all the necessary documents and it is up to PacifiCorp now to follow through.

"When they take the dam out, the requirement is that White Salmon still has water," Poucher explained. "I signed off on our portion last week, but it still has to be signed by PacifiCorp. As far as I can tell, everything is going to go ahead and move forward. We've done everything we can do. We're just waiting for PacifiCorp to sign off, and we will get started."

Poucher added that the contractor chosen to do the pipeline work -- Tapani Underground, based in Battle Ground -- is ready to go to work once PacifiCorp gives the final OK.

"I would imagine as soon as PacifiCorp signs it and says `go,' Tapani is going to start. I assume they'll want to buy the pipe before steel prices go up," said Poucher.

Gauntt pointed out, however, that more snags could crop up.

"There are still a few hurdles," he said. "FERC has to approve individual work plans for the water line and the bridge. It's a 250-page federal decision, but on the first read, the recent decision was as much a `go' as we could have anticipated."

The operating license for Condit Dam expired at the end of 1993, and since then the project has operated under annual licenses.

In October 1999, PacifiCorp filed an application for amendment of its license and sought approval of an offer of settlement PacifiCorp had reached with various federal and state agencies, tribes, and conservation groups. The settlement agreement originally envisioned extending the existing license term to Oct. 1, 2006, then ceasing project operations and commencing removal of the dam and all other project works except the powerhouse.

There have been several delays in the process as the years have gone by, pushing the removal date back to where it appears to stand now: 2011.

In an order issued on Dec. 16, 2010, FERC accepted the surrender of PacifiCorp's license for Condit Dam and authorized the removal of most of the project facilities.

The process of fully deconstructing the dam, once it begins, is expected to take about a year.

Gauntt said it was his hope that FERC would rule on the final outstanding plans regarding the dam within a couple weeks.

"They know of our deadlines," Gauntt explained.


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