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Sultan Access Restored (WA)

Posted: 05/28/2004
by Thomas O'Keefe

This week the City of Everett and Snohomish PUD announced that the Allen Gate, which controls access to Lake Chaplain Road will once again be opened on weekends from the hours of 6 am to 6 pm, starting this Memorial Day weekend. This gate has been closed on weekends since fall 2001 preventing the public from accessing designated recreation sites and important river access along the west side of the Sultan River, including areas used by kayakers, birders, bikers, fishermen, and the general public. In particular the restricted gate hours had effectively eliminated the most important river access to the Lower Sultan at the Powerhouse and the Horseshoe Bend section located below the old diversion dam, for all but a small minority of recreational users who had the opportunity to access the river during the work day.

The Snohomish PUD has asked the paddling community to return to the access point on river right for those running the river below the powerhouse (over the past two years the only possible access on weekends when demand was highest was from river left at the powerhouse). In addition we now once again have walk-in access to the Horseshoe Bend run on weekends which can be reached by walking up the gated road that leads up to the old diversion dam. The Snohomish PUD has been very helpful in developing interim solutions to address access needs and working with the recreation community to address longer term issues.

It's important to note that this access will be closed if the Homeland Security threat level is raised to orange or red.


American Whitewater identified denial of public access to rivers on security grounds as a Top Ten Issue in 2002, and this represents one more success in restoring important public access. Our goal was to work with security personnel at dams and river management agencies to address security needs while protecting the public's river use and access traditions for boaters, fishermen, and the general public. In June 2002 the Washington Post quoted Assistant Attorney General Michael Chertoff, when he affirmed that "to destroy a dam physically would require 'tons' of explosives'". Such a volume of explosives is far in excess of the volume or carrying capacity of a whitewater canoe, kayak, or fishing bag. Despite this, utilities across the country have been incredibly inconsistent in their responses to new security issues that have been implemented to address both the safety of public water supplies and protection of hydropower infrastructure.

At the local level Andy Bridge and Tom O'Keefe along with other local volunteers have been working to review the situation on the Sultan River and communicate our concerns to local staff with the City of Everett and Snohomish PUD. In March 2002 Western Access and Conservation Director John Gangemi participated in a site visit and he has continued to coordinate our efforts in a national policy context.

At the national level, AW has been working closely with FERC and other members of the Hydropower Reform Coalition to clarify procedures for implementing security changes that impact recreational access. We have recognized the concern regarding public safety, but also feel that we can strike a balance that allows continued access to public lands while maintaining security. It is possible to provide security while also protecting existing public access, privileges, traditions, and freedoms.

FERC has made it clear that security issues are not an excuse for eliminating access/recreation and they have cautioned licensees against doing this. In the FERC Security Program for Hydropower Projects, the FERC staff are directed to review how upgraded security elements impact license articles, especially relating to environmental concerns and recreation. The document further states that, "Any closures of facilities, such as for recreational areas or roads, exceeding 30 days may need to proceed through the license amendment process", and that "Permanent closure of license-required facilities should not be allowed without license amendment". While access to the Sultan River was never technically eliminated, because access was available on weekdays, the restrictictions did effectively limit recreational access. Access to recreation sites (site 3 on river right at the powerhouse and site 5 providing access to the Horseshoe Bend run), as identified in the Recreation Plan for the Henry M. Jackson Hydroelectric Project (FERC Article 52, Exhibit R, 20APR1991) were restricted for more than 2 years. We appreciate the efforts of Snohomish PUD and the City of Everett in developing a security plan that restores this important public access to weekend use.

Associated Projects

Sultan River (WA)
AW is working to improve flows and public access for the benefit of fish, wildlife, and paddlers as part of hydropower relicensing on this river.