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FERC opens comment period on Cispus (WA)

Posted: 08/05/2005
by Thomas O'Keefe

In June 1986 Lewis County Public Utilities District received a license to build and operate the Cowlitz Falls Dam and hydroelectric facility at the confluence of the Cispus and Cowlitz Rivers (FERC 2833). The project destroyed a rare bigwater rapid at the confluence, flooded an additional 2 miles of whitewater, and elimanted the historic take-out for those who enjoyed the Lower Cispus run. In the first edition of his guidebook published in 1991, Jeff Bennett described Cowlitz Falls as follows:

The Falls begins with an exciting ride over rollercoaster waves, then through smaller waves before hurling boaters around a left bend and into more powerful hydraulics... at higher flows, the big waves that dominate Cowlitz Falls become minature versions of rapids like Granite on Hell's Canyon of the Lower Snake. This drop was dynamited and a 140 foot high dam now stands in its place.

Article 42 of the license states in part "The licensee shall, after consultation with the Friends of Whitewater, construct a boat ramp take-out facility at the head of the reservoir on the Cispus River so that boating use of that river will not be interrupted by project construction and operation."

Now nearly two decades since the original license was issued, a take-out has not been provided despite FERC's order that such access be provided before construction was completed. In the time since, the Lower Cispus run has largely fallen off the map and what was once a popular class III run beginning in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest now sees relatively limited use. The run was previously enjoyed by kayakers, canoeists, and rafters and was an ideal run for beginner/intermediates with fun playful rapids, good scenery, wildlife viewing opportunities, and great nearby camping.

For the past two years American Whitewater volunteers have renewed efforts to ask FERC for assistance in securing the access that was promised. In a recent development Port Blakely Tree Farms has expressed a willingness to grant an easement to the PUD that would provide access for the whitewater community. We are optimistic that a solution can be found but a few obstacles to reaching a final agreement remain. First, Port Blakely requires liability insurance for public access and the PUD has determined that paddlers should provide their own $1 million liability coverage to meet this requirement. Second, the proposal in its current form requires a rather cumbersome procedure of signing forms and acquiring keys (on this second point the PUD has show some flexibility and we are encouraged that a simpler solution can be reached).

AW did not have an opportunity to review the PUD's full proposal before they sent it to FERC. Although the plan shows some of the most promising progress on this issue in more than a decade there are still aspects of the plan that we do not agree with. Before making any decisions or recommendations, FERC has provided the public with an opportunity to comment on this proposal and paddlers who either have used or would consider using the Lower Cispus if the access issue were resolved are encouraged to make their feelings known to FERC.

AW is currently working with local affiliate clubs to prepare comments but indivdiual comments are also needed. If you have questions on the content of the plan you can view the full document on FERC's website (view document ). Local AW staff and volunteers are also happy to discuss the plan with interested individuals and provide suggestions for aspects of the plan that would benefit from additional critical review. Our staff are also available to assist you with filing comments. Your comments need to be received by August 15th and the easiest way to file them is by eFiling. We can provide instructions and guidance for anyone needing assistance.

Associated Projects

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