FERC Issues Condit Dam License Surrender Order


This is a major and key step toward removal of the Condit Dam which is now anticipated in October, 2011. The document actually has an amazing amount of detail regarding the process begun in October, 1999. It’s been a long while coming but it looks like this project has entered the final phase and that we will soon see the White Salmon River running wild and free all the way to the Columbia.

Condit Dam removal clears hurdle

It may be dismantled next fall after PacifiCorp reaches tentative deal

Condit Dam on the White Salmon River could be removed as early as next fall after a tentative agreement was reached between Skamania and Klickitat counties and PacifiCorp, which operates the 125-foot dam.

Condit Dam on the White Salmon River could be removed as early as next fall after a tentative agreement was reached between Skamania and Klickitat counties and PacifiCorp, which operates the 125-foot dam. – Photo by Steven Lane

By Kathie DurbinThe Columbian, Friday, November 12, 2010

PacifiCorp has reached a tentative settlement with two Columbia River Gorge counties that waged a 10-year legal battle against the utility’s plan to decommission 97-year-old Condit Dam on Washington’s White Salmon River.

With that roadblock out of the way, the 125-foot-tall dam could be demolished as soon as the fall of 2011. It would become the highest dam ever dismantled in the United States. Its removal would open the river’s upper reach and a tributary to salmon for the first time since 1913.

The Portland-based utility announced Tuesday that it had reached agreement with Klickitat and Skamania counties on a deal under which it will pay the 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.

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, which are formal intervenors in the federal dam decommissioning process, 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.

Klickitat County commissioners approved the settlement Tuesday; Skamania County commissioners are scheduled to consider the deal on Tuesday.

“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 in a statement.

Two more steps remain, Olson said: Obtaining a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and winning final approval of the plan in what’s known as a “surrender order” from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The company also is in the final phase of contracting for the dam demolition work, Olson said.

Opponents of dam removal enlisted the help of the counties early on. Bankrolled by Klickitat County, which was flush with revenue from its Roosevelt landfill operation, the counties hired Washington, D.C., lawyers who specialized in energy law and formally petitioned FERC for intervenor status in March 2000.

They argued that local residents had been excluded from negotiations between PacifiCorp and Northwest conservation groups and government agencies over the dam removal plan. Parties to those negotiations agreed not to sue to block the demolition plan.

Under the plan, a 12-by-18-foot hole will be blasted near the base of the dam, releasing more than 2 million cubic yards of sediment into the lower White Salmon and the Columbia River. PacifiCorp chose that plan rather than a more costly option that would have involved dredging most of the sediment from behind the dam before demolition.

Opponents also questioned whether state and federal agencies that signed the settlement agreement compromised their ability to objectively review the company’s dam removal plan.

In 2006, the Klickitat County Public Utility District informed PacifiCorp that it wanted to buy the dam and was prepared to acquire it and its electrical generating facilities through condemnation if necessary.

That tactic, ignored by PacifiCorp, was quickly dropped.

This week, officials from both counties issued statements commending the settlement.

“Klickitat and Skamania Counties participated fully in the review of Condit Dam removal in state and federal environmental studies and submitted comments to a host of governmental agencies, including the Washington State Department of Ecology,” said Klickitat County Commissioner Dave Sauter. “PacifiCorp took seriously the counties’ concerns and incorporated a number of the recommendations into the dam removal plan.”

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.”

2010/10 – Condit Update

Friends of the White Salmon (FWSR) has been involved in the Condit Dam removal process since it  began in 1991, when PacifiCorp filed for relicensing of the dam.  FWSR has been involved as an early commenter of the relicensing application, as a party to the Settlement Agreement negotiations and as a signatory to the Agreement.  We have also made numerous comments on agency actions through the years since 1991.

We rely on and cooperate with other signatories, such as American Rivers, American Whitewater, Friends of the Columbia Gorge and others, but we also represent a uniquely local perspective on Condit issues.   In particular, we are concerned about two aspects not covered by the Settlement Agreement but of great important locally – what will happen to the land that is owned by PacifiCorp in the area of the dam and what will happen with the very large and very senior water right owned by PacifiCorp.

Removal is planned to take place in the fall when the smallest number of anadromous fish will be in the river below the dam.  Fish below the dam will be trapped and held out of the river during the period of highest flow following dam breaching.  They will then be returned to the river, probably within a day of  breaching.

Our current (November 2009) estimate is that dam removal will occur in the fall of 2011.  PacifiCorp needs to have all permits in place nine months before the removal date, which would mean having permits in place by January 2010 for removal in fall 2010.

We are very much looking forward to the day the dam comes out, although we understand that there is some loss involved for the local community, such as the loss of Northwestern Lake behind the dam, and that there will be problems to be solved after dam removal, such as how the very important river recreation activities will co-exist with spawning salmon.  Removal will mean extra attention to water quality and shorelines protection, which is not always without controversy. We also have a great deal of respect for the skill and energy that went into building the dam, as seen through PacifiCorp archival pictures.  It was an amazing feat.

Nevertheless, the removal of this dam will be historic and the thought of a free-flowing river only one Columbia River dam (and a lot of sea lions) away from the Pacific Ocean is thrilling.

It appears, from recent experience with the removal of the Marmot Dam on the Sandy River, the removal of the Hemlock Dam on Trout Creek in Skamania County, that the rivers themselves move the sediment along very quickly after dam removal, and that the fish waste no time exploring and using the new habitat.

Condit removal has one particularly interesting feature.  Rainbow trout, which are genetically identical to steelhead, have been tagged above Condit for research purposes.  Two of those tagged fish have been found downstream from Condit, one dead in an area where a lot of tern feed near Astoria Oregon, at the mouth of the Columbia, and one moving upstream over Bonneville Dam, indicating that it had made the trip to the ocean and was returning to its spawning place.  Condit was built very rapidly in 1913, and presumable many salmon were trapped above the dam.  Some of these appear to have adapted to a fresh water existence, but may be ready to adapt once again to an anadromous life cycle, thereby providing one of the few truly native species not affected by hatchery work.

The best source for factual information about the Condit Dam removal project is the website maintained by PacifiCorp, the owner of the dam.  PacifiCorp has posted a large quantity of information, including the Settlement Agreement, a history of the project, sediment reports, all the management plans that have been prepared as part of the Environmental Impact Statement process, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) documents, and much more.

View DOE’s 401 of 12 Oct 2010

View FWSR’s press release about the 401 issued by DOE on 12 Oct 2010