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PacifiCorp: County should weigh in on dam removal
< Dean Brockbank, vice president and general counsel for PacifiCorp made a presentation during this week’s county supervisors meeting regarding the Agreement in Principle (AIP) that was reached recently concerning the possible removal of four hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River. Brockbank encouraged the county to “take a seat at the table.”
Yreka, Calif. - Much of this week’s board of supervisors meeting was taken up with presentations and discussions from two Pacific Northwest power giants. Both PacifiCorp, which supplies power to Siskiyou County residents, and Pacific Gas and Electric, who plans to conduct weather modification cloud seeding in Southern Siskiyou County, sent representatives to explain their recent actions to the board members.
Dean Brockbank, vice president and general counsel for PacifiCorp, made a presentation and engaged in a discussion with county supervisors regarding the Agreement in Principle (AIP) that was reached recently concerning the possible removal of four hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River.
The AIP announced Nov. 13 between the federal government, the states of California and Oregon, and PacifiCorp presents a scenario for possible removal of the hydroelectric dams starting in 2020, after a four-year period of study.
The supervisors announced their unanimous opposition to the AIP recently and began preparations to assemble a legal team to assist county counsel in fighting dam removal. The supervisors also oppose the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement reached last year by various stakeholders and environmental groups.
“We are in the business of generating power,” explained Brockbank as he presented a historical perspective of how PacifiCorp, parent company of Pacific Power, arrived at the point of signing the AIP.
“Our license for operating the hydroelectric dams expired in 2006,” explained Brockbank.
“We’ve been in the [license] renewal process with FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) for years. The issue became very contentious; it became apparent over the years that the state of California, the state of Oregon and the federal government were pushing hard for decommissioning.”
Brockbank further explained, “If it were completely up to us, we’d like to relicense this project.”
However, he said, the risk involved for PacifiCorp was “rising every day.” He explained that the mitigations heaped upon the project, if they sought renewal, were going to cost ratepayers a lot of money.
And, Brockbank added, there was no guarantee that PacifiCorp would be able to operate the dams following the mitigations. They may still have been required to be removed, he said.
“So, we shifted to a more pragmatic approach,” Brockbank continued. “We negotiated with governments and others. We tried to get the best arrangement that would minimize risks.”
“The AIP is not a dam removal agreement,” Brockbank asserted. “There are many conditions that have to be met before we can arrive at a Final Agreement.”
After three-and-a-half years of due diligence, it will be determined, according to Brockbank, if dam removal is beneficial.
He stressed that the Department of the Interior will study and evaluate all aspects of dam removal and reach an ultimate decision in March of 2012, when the Secretary of Interior will announce that decision.
Brockbank said he understands that the county supervisors feel that dam removal is not a good idea, but he stressed that it’s in the county’s best interest to have a “seat at the table.”
“Don’t sit on the sidelines,” he admonished.
Toby Freeman, Pacific Power’s local community representative, accompanied Brockbank to the meeting and sat by his side.
Supervisor Jim Cook thanked Brockbank for his presentation, saying that, “Pacific Power has been very straight-forward.” He said he has talked with several presidents and other officials and all were extremely helpful.
“How can we have a seat at the table if we’re not going to commit to removal?” he asked.
Brockbank responded that PacifiCorp would not make the decisions alone as to who sits at the table.
“We just want you to have a commitment to a Final Agreement, not necessarily dam removal,” Brockbank said. “If a party is supportive to a Final Agreement, they can sit at the table.”
Brockbank also pointed out that the studies are not done yet and that the benefit of the county having a seat at the table would be to look into the nature of the scientific studies, such as the content of the sediment, which would be released.
He said the county could, hopefully, help dictate and establish the nature of the Final Agreement.
Supervisor LaVada Erickson took a more direct approach and asked Brockbank, “Does the AIP state that you have to agree with removal to sit at the table?”
“No, I don’t believe so,” said Brockbank.
Supervisor Marcia Armstrong spoke “as a person who represents people below the dams for 120 miles.”
She said she is concerned about dioxin (a cancer-causing chemical) in the sediment and about the “lack of robustness of the preliminary studies.” She said he hopes the quality of the studies for the Final Agreement will be better.
Armstrong also pointed out that the AIP has “a lot of ‘mays’ in it.”
“We need “shalls,” she said, and continued listing other concerns she has, “such as land restoration, roads, etc., which are not mentioned in the AIP.
“We don’t want to be left with a big dioxin mud hole mess where the dams used to be,” she added.
She also voiced disappointment in the secrecy of the meetings leading up to the AIP and wondered if Copco Lake landowners and representatives from the Shasta and Scott Valleys could be included at the table.
“I hope there’s no litmus test to be at the table,” she concluded.
Brockbank said that a protocol document has been laid out. “Any party willing to sign it can have a seat at the table,” he said.
County counsel Tom Guarino explained that the AIP is separate from the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement, “which had a precondition that you have to be in favor of removal.”
Brockbank explained that PacifiCorp is not a signatory to the KBRA.“The AIP is not an agreement to remove dams,” he repeated. “It flags a lot of issues, but doesn’t address them. But they will be addressed in the Final Agreement discussions.”
Brockbank also explained that if the Secretary of the Interior decides to remove the dams, ownership of the dams would be transferred to a third party, a Dam Removal Entity.
“If the secretary agrees that the dams should not come out, PacifiCorp would return to the FERC relicensing process,” added Brockbank. “Relicensing is a possibility.”
Supervisor Michael Kobseff asked once again about the AIP “not being a dam removal agreement.”
This time, Brockbank said, “It is an agreement that contemplates dam removal after a process is completed. The expectation is that it will [conclude that dam removal is best], but it could be different.”
“I will gladly take the role of a punching bag,” Brockbank said before taking comments and questions from the audience.
Farmer Robert Davis commented that agreements like the KBRA “makes it evident that there will be an end to farming in the Klamath Basin.” He said the proponents think that farming will be “replaced by black salmon that come here to die.”
Rick Butler noted, “The Columbia River, with dams, returns more salmon than two other rivers that don’t have ladders.” He also pointed out that dams and reservoirs provide habitat for fish plus recreation and spoke of people losing money on property values.
Richard Gierak called the entire dam removal concept “ludicrous” and questioned why anybody would want to remove clean energy sources and replace them with coal-fired plants. He said that if dam removal takes place property owners can “look forward to dry creeks in summer and floods in winter.”
“Keep the dams in place,” Gierak stated.
Pacific Gas and Electric made its presentation about cloud seeding later in the afternoon. See Monday’s Daily News for more on that issue.
Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:15 AM Pacific
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