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PacifiCorp dam license challenged
H&N AP 5/26/04
Grants Pass (AP) - Conservation groups have filed a legal challenge to the new operating license granted to PacifiCorp for its hydroelectric project on the North Umpqua River.
Opponents of the project argue that the U.S. Forest Service ignored the advice of its own biologists when it agreed to support the license.
"This is yet another example of politics trumping science," said Diana Wales of Umpqua Valley Audubon Society, one of the seven conservation groups which filed the lawsuit Monday. "We are only seeking balance. We can have hydropower and a healthy river, but not with the current license that ignores the most significant problems caused by Soda Springs Dam."
The lawsuit was filed in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco against the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which granted a new 35-year operating license for the project, and the Forest Service, which controls the Umpqua National Forest, where the project is located. Spokesmen for FERC and the Forest Service said they would not comment on pending litigation.
Located east of Roseburg, the project is made up of eight small dams that produce peak power of 185 megawatts, enough to power 95,000 homes. The lawsuit claims the Forest Service ignored the advice of its own biologists, who recommended taking out the dam to increase spawning habitat for steelhead. The Forest Service had originally demanded removal of the lowest of the dams, which smoothes out flows entering the river, but changed its position and supported a settlement allowing its retention.
PacifiCorp got a new license last November after reaching a settlement with state and federal agencies to spend $85 million on habitat improvements in return for being able to keep the lowest dam. PacifiCorp spokesman Dave Kvamme said the lawsuit would delay construction of the fish ladder and screens for a year or two.
"We weren't surprised by the appeal, but we're certainly disappointed." said Kvamme. "We are staffed and ready to begin implementation of the settlement agreement signed in 2001."
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