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FERC Grants Permit to Study Hydro on Madison (MT)

Posted: 10/30/2009
by Kevin Colburn

Earlier this year a private hydropower company proposed to build a hydropower project on Montana's famed Madison River.  The project would pipe water from Quake Lake around the Class IV/V Slide section of whitewater to a new powerhouse downstream.  The project, if built, would virtually eliminate whitewater recreation on this section of river, and would have significant environmental impacts.   


The first step of building a hydropower project is gaining a Preliminary Permit from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which grants the permit holder the sole right to develop a project at the identified location, and two years to study the feasibility and desirability of the project.  After two years the permit holder generally must either initiate the formal licensing process prior to construction, or the permit will expire.   Preliminary Permits do not authorize the construction of the project.  American Whitewater, Beartooth Paddlers, and Jackson Hole Kayak Club, along with Trout Unlimited, Greater Yellowstone Coalition, American Rivers, and other groups filed comments asking FERC to not grant this Preliminary Permit. 


Our request was based on the fact that the "Slide" section of the Madison River has been formally determined by the US Forest Service to be Eligible for Wild and Scenic River designation.  This determination requires the Forest Service to protect the values which would ultimately support designation.  In this case we argued that the US Forest Service could, and would have to, prevent the construction of this project to protect the Wild and Scenic values of the Madison River.  Since there will be no legal way to build the project, we argued that it would be a waste of public resources and poor policy to grant a Preliminary Permit for it.  FERC largely ignored our comments relating specifically to eligible rivers, and as is their practice, granted the Preliminary Permit.  


While FERC has fairly broad discretion to grant Preliminary Permits, actually licensing and allowing a hydropower project to severely impact a treasured river that is eligible for Wild and Scenic designation is another matter.  American Whitewater and our regional partners will continue to oppose this proposed very destructive project. 


For more information read our Comments and FERC's Issuance of the Preliminary Permit. 

Kevin Colburn
Asheville, NC

Associated Rivers


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