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Work Begins on Access to Cispus River (WA)

Posted: 09/07/2006
by Thomas O'Keefe

For over a decade whitewater boaters have been looking to FERC to actively enforce license requirements to provide public access to the Cispus River. In issuing the license to Lewis County PUD for construction of the Cowlitz Falls Hydroelectric Project in 1986, FERC stated, "The licensee shall, after consultation with the Friends of the Whitewater, construct a boat ramp take-out facility at the head of the reservoir on the Cispus River so that boating use of the river will not be interrupted by project construction or operation."

Unfortunately the hydro project was constructed and Cowlitz Falls, one of the region's signature bigwater rapids, was lost. While lands to build the project, reservoir, and transmission lines were acquired, a long-term agreement was never secured for the required public access. Some of the historic river access points including the site lost by construction of the dam were informally available across private timber company lands, but a project owner is required by the Federal Power Act to undertake "appropriate measures on behalf of both developmental and non-developmental public interest uses of the waterway, including fish, wildlife and recreation." In this case providing public access was identified as a specific measure required as a condition of the utility accepting the license to build the project on a public waterway.

Citing difficultly in securing the necessary agreements with private timber companies, the utility applied for a license amendment in 1996 asking that the required take-out facility, be moved from the head of the reservoir to the far side of the project reservoir, at the Cowlitz Falls Day Use Park. In 1998, FERC denied the licensee's amendment request, concluding that the proposed site would "substantially decrease the waterway's value as a recreational resource" and reaffirmed the requirement for the utility to develop a take-out site on the Cispus River.

Following pressure from AW and FERC, a plan was finally submitted in the spring of 2005 and FERC provided a public comment period. Comments were filed by American Whitewater, seven whitewater boating groups, local whitewater businesses, National Park Service Rivers and Trails program, Washington Interagency Committee for Outdoor Recreation, and thirty-three individuals. In general stakeholders commented on concerns with a burdensome set of insurance requirements that were proposed as a requirement for access to the site but were deemed necessary to meet the needs of private timber companies who owned the road to the access site.

In response to these concerns, Port Blakely a timber company and the owner of the primary road access to the site, offered a revised solution to provide access. American Whitewater greatly appreciates the willingness of Port Blakely to hear our concerns and offer creative alternatives. Under their proposal the insurance requirements would be waived for those who were willing to hike out from the river approximately 1200 feet to the primary haul road where parking along the road would be provided. Those who are willing to secure the required insurance would be provided with drive in access to the site. AW recommended that the utility provide staffing to open and close the gate to the site on a daily basis to allow the take-out users to have vehicular access to the river. FERC did not accept our suggestion but noted that "the licensee, Port Blakely, and the whitewater boaters are not precluded from working together to find ways to improve the accessibility of the take-out site." Club affiliate Washington Recreational River Runners has filed with FERC to request additional clarification on site access and expressed concerns with a plan that does not work well for private rafters (hauling rafts out 1200 feet is not reasonable). Meetings with Port Blakely and the utility have continued through the summer and we are optimistic that we can find solutions that will improve management of boater access to the river. Both Port Blakely and Lewis County PUD have shown a genuine interest in exploring creative solutions and we will continue our discussions.

The best news is that crews are ready to begin work on the site as soon as the forest fire hazard drops. Look for an announcement of an official opening in the near future.

Thomas O'Keefe
3537 NE 87th St.
Seattle, WA 98115
Phone: 425-417-9012

Associated Projects

Cispus River Access (WA)
AW has been working to enforce requirements for public access to the Cispus River.