Make the McKenzie Connection!

NOAA questions Carmen relicensing

Agency cites “no confidence” in EWEB’s compliance

MCKENZIE BRIDGE: In an October 17th letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Marine Fisheries Service has challenged the way the Eugene Water & Electric Board is dealing with fish passage issues at the Carmen-Smith Hydroelectric Project.

Kim Kratz, the assistant regional administrator of the NOAA’s OR/WA Coastal Office wrote that the lack of progress toward completion of the fish passage measures had “reached the point where NOAA Fisheries cannot continue to stand by the plans offered by the project licensee.” Kratz went on to write that “we have no confidence that EWEB will implement the license as issued, particularly with respect to protections for Upper Willamette River (UWR) Chinook salmon.”

At issue are ways of allowing salmon to pass around the Trail Bridge Dam and access approximately 8 miles of McKenzie River and tributary habitat blocked by the project.

EWEB made an error in 2008 by estimating the value of the power produced by the project was nearly three times the actual value, $35 per megawatt-hour. In 2016, a settlement agreement included plans to rely on a less expensive trap-and-haut fish passage system to reduce the costs, rather than a “passage through dams” system for migrating fish.

“EWEB has gone from a 2008 commitment to provide first-class volitional passage within seven years, to a ten-year delay (and counting) to provide trap-and-haul, for the alleged purposes of balancing project economics, even though the present cost of power is now very close to EWEB’s original 2008 estimate,” according to the NOAA’s letter.

“EWEB takes seriously our responsibilities and commitments under the license for the Carmen-Smith Hydroelectric Project, according to the utility’s General Manager Frank Lawson. “We respectfully disagree with the characterizations in the letter that the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) sent to our regulator, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

“As a publicly owned utility, EWEB embodies the values of our community as we meet their need for safe, reliable, affordable, and environmentally responsible electricity and water, Lawson says. “We are committed to cooperating with regulatory partners and other agencies to do what’s best for the community and the environment.”

“EWEB officials say that they’ve been frustrated by delays in establishing a fish passage at the Trail Bridge Dam which have included assessing potential dam safety issues related to sinkholes in the reservoir above the dam, new information on seismic vulnerability in the area, and challenges linked to EWEB staffing and planning. The utility says it is committed to moving the Carmen-Smith license implementation projects forward as quickly as possible, including fish passage.

“To address the specific allegations in the letter from NMFS, we are responding in a letter to FERC that we will deliver by Nov. 13th”, Lawson says. “Ultimately, FERC will decide what happens next and we await their response and direction. We look forward to working with our partners at FERC and the settlement parties to find the best solution that meets everyone’s needs.”


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