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PacifiCorp, counties reach dam deal

  Condit Dam near Columbia River could be taken out next year

 "Opponents of the dam removal had argued for years that local residents had been excluded from negotiations."

     VANCOUVER, Wash. (AP) — A utility aiming to demolish a southwest Washington dam has reached a tentative agreement with two Columbia River Gorge counties that had waged a 10-year legal battle against the plan.

   The deal means the 97-year-old Condit Dam on the White Salmon River could be demolished as soon as the fall of 2011.

   Under the agreement, Portland-based PacifiCorp will pay Klickitat and Skamania counties $675,000 to offset the impacts of dam removal, including the effects on a group of cabin owners at Northwestern Lake. The reservoir behind the dam will be drained with the dam’s removal.

   “Reaching agreement with the counties allows us to continue moving forward on the decommissioning of the Condit project,” said project manager Todd Olson of PacifiCorp.

   Skamania County commissioners are scheduled to consider the agreement Tuesday. Klickitat County commissioners approved the deal on Tuesday, the day PacifiCorp announced the agreement.

   Officials from both counties issued statements this week commending the settlement.

   “PacifiCorp took seriously the counties’ concerns and incorporated a number of the recommendations into the dam removal plan,” said Klickitat County Commissioner Dave Sauter.

   Jamie Tolfree, chairwoman of the Skamania County Board of Commissioners, said, “The counties will now look to the federal agencies and the Department of Ecology to ensure that dam removal is carried out consistent with federal and state requirements.”  

   Open to salmon

   The dam sits about three miles upstream of the confluence of the White Salmon and Columbia rivers. Its removal would open the river’s upper reach and a tributary to salmon for the first time since it was built in 1913.

   Opponents of the dam removal had argued for years that local residents had been excluded from negotiations.

   Under the agreement, the project’s hydroelectric water right will be transferred to Klickitat County, and PacifiCorp will agree to protect the structural integrity of Northwestern Lake Bridge.

   In return, the counties agree not to oppose the removal of the dam and associated structures, to complete noxious weed control in the project area after decommissioning, and to work with the utility to protect public safety during the dam’s demolition.

   Last month, the Washington state Department of Ecology issued a water quality permit for the demolition. Olson said the proposal still requires approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

   The utility serves 1.6 million customers in Oregon, California, Washington, Idaho, Utah and Wyoming, and is owned by MidAmerican Energy Holdings Co., a unit of Warren Buffett’s Omaha, Neb.- based Berkshire Hathaway Inc. PacifiCorp operates as Pacific Power in Oregon, Washington and northern California.
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