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PacifiCorp Receives Hydro License for their Bear River Projects (ID)

Posted: 02/02/2004
by John Gangemi

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has issued a new 30 year license for the Bear River Projects in southeast Idaho.  PacifiCorp has requested clarification of several inconsistencies in the license, but the balance of the license provisions has already taken effect.   As a result of additional FERC license conditions, recreational whitewater releases in the Class IV (V) Black Canyon section near Grace, ID will be delayed one year.  "Scheduled" whitewater releases are now expected to begin in year 5 of the license (2008), with the possibility of "opportunistic" (based on water availability) whitewater releases in years 2-4 of the new license (2005-2007).   The one year delay is a result of additional requirements by the FERC for PacifiCorp to develop a large number of "operating plans," including a flow release plan from Grace Dam and a biological impact monitoring plan during whitewater releases  All of the required operating plans will require FERC approval before their implementation may proceed.   The new license will require PacifiCorp to provide more reliable flows in the Class II Oneida Narrows section north of Preston, ID; plus river flow and scheduled release information for both reaches via a flow phone and internet.

 

Relicensing Background

On September 27, 1999, PacifiCorp filed new license applications for the continued operation and maintenance of three projects located on the Bear River in Caribou and Franklin Counties, Idaho.  These projects currently occupy more than 500 acres of federal lands managed by the U.S. Department of the Interior's Bureau of Land Management ("BLM").  PacifiCorp operates these projects to meet irrigation demands, provide flood control, and generate power.

 

Faced with the virtual certainty of lawsuits from the license application PacifiCorp initially submitted to the FERC, in late 2001 PacifiCorp began settlement negotiations with agencies and NGOs, including American Whitewater.  On September 26, 2002, PacifiCorp filed a comprehensive Settlement Agreement (SA) resolving all issues regarding relicensing of the Bear River Projects.  The SA was signed by all federal and state agencies with jurisdiction over the Project and a host of environmental groups and public interest organizations ("NGOs") who assert interests affected by the Project.  After receiving the SA, the Commission issued a Draft Environmental Impact Statement ("DEIS) analyzing the environmental effects of the proposed Project and all reasonable alternatives to the proposed Project.  After seeking and receiving public comment, the Commission issued a Final EIS on April 11, 2003 recommending approval of the SA.  After evaluating the EIS, the Commission signed a licensing Order on December 22, 2003, approving the SA with certain modifications.  PacifiCorp had 30 days to accept, reject, or accept the license while requesting a rehearing to clarify specific points.  They chose the latter option, thus accepting the FERC license and the bulk of its conditions.  The license is now in effect and PacifiCorp expects the FERC to rule on the license clarifications during the next 3-5 months. 

 

In the SA, PacifiCorp attempted to limit their potential liability for mitigation on the projects.  In issuing the license, the FERC prohibited PacifiCorp from limiting their liability to the dollars agreed to in the SA.  Additionally, the FERC imposed requirements for PacifiCorp to prepare some 20+ "plans" that are subject to the FERC approval prior to implementation.  These plans and the need for the FERC to approve future changes to the plans will delay implementation of the license by one year, thus also delaying "scheduled" whitewater releases by one whitewater season.

 

PacifiCorp and an Environmental Coordination Committee (ECC) are responsible for the adaptive management approach to implementation of the license provisions.  The ECC is made up of representatives from the organizations who were signatories to the Settlement Agreement, including American Whitewater.  AW's representative on the Bear ECC is Charlie Vincent, AW regional representative from Salt Lake City, Utah.  Questions on this project may be directed to Charlie <charliev@xmission.com>, or John Gangemi jtgangemi@centurytel.net.