PUD extends period to decide to generate power or decommission
OKANOGAN – Okanogan County PUD Commissioners voted Monday, Feb. 9, to ask for a two-week extension with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to decide whether to commission Enloe Dam and build a new powerhouse, or decommission and remove the dam.
PUD Commissioners also directed staff members to look for other agencies interested in either rebuilding the powerhouse or removing the dam.
Proponents of the electrification of the dam as well as opponents of the project had the opportunity to speak to the commissioners before the vote was cast.
Tom Berschauer of Omak said he was in favor of making Enloe productive, and voiced concern over what was left in the soil behind the dam from gold-mining activities, and what damage the silt might do to the fisheries.
“If you remove the dam it is 100 percent negative cash flow, as opposed to some income,” Berschauer said. “We need to develop the dam and offset it. We are going to be forced to remove the dam someday if we let this license go.”
Rocky DeVon of Oroville said he was in support of “putting in this dam,” voicing concern as an Oroville School Board Chairman over how much money the school would already be losing in assessed value with the closing of the Buckhorn Gold Mine.
Lee Barker of Omak wanted to know what happened with the proposal from Ted Sorenson, and how much consideration commissioners had given to it.
“We could get back some of the money we have spent,” Barker said. “For 20 years we’d get a percentage. And if Sorenson were to run the dam, it would considerably decrease our liability.”
Commissioner Ernest Bolz said if the board voted to electrify, “we have a lot more options of people to approach; to more deeply explore offers of potential buyers like Sorenson.”
Commissioner Steve Houston said he’d prefer to have someone else come in and run the dam, and was impressed with Sorenson’s proposal. “I was impressed with Sorenson’s comment, ‘I build Fords, not Cadillacs.’ He does stuff cost effective.”
Isabel Spohn of Twisp spoke up, saying she did not support electrification of the dam.
“You’re throwing good money after bad,” Spohn said. “The falls surpass the dam as a tourist attraction, and there is no evidence the silt is a barrier or an insurmountable obstacle.”
Joseph Enzensperger of Oroville said he has been opposed to the electrification of the dam since first reading about it in 2010.
“I have been as active on this as a person not paid to be could be,” Enzensperger said. “I have been trying to bring wisdom to this board that the flow of the Similkameen is too low to support this.”
Enzensperger also expressed concern that the dam would only be able to generate 2 percent of the district’s demand for electricity. “The real electricity in this region is down on the Colombia,” Enzensperger said. “Calling it a 9 megawatt powerhouse belies the truth. 4.5 is the monthly average generation, but the requirement is to keep it under 5 megawatt. That’s why we call it that, but for the purpose of selling it to the public, it is called a 9 megawatt powerhouse.”
Mike Ward, a Wauconda resident who will be moving to Tonasket also voiced concern about the numbers game.
“The project is going to cost more to build and maintain than it is going to generate, and I would like to see the PUD better inform people about those numbers,” Ward said. “I don’t want to be operating under a debt and I don’t want my daughter to grow up with this debt.” Ward said he has worked on hydroelectric power projects in the past, including working with groups on how to manage liabilities, and insisted that “economics is the bottom line.”
Jim Miller of Omak said he has been following the project for over a year.
“The flyer for ratepayers that is here says the project will lose $1.7 million each year. Who would build a losing business? I have some stock I would like to sell you.”
Miller went on to say he “didn’t think we have been given all the facts in a method the ratepayers can understand; in a way they can make a decision about this. It has been framed in a way that is in favor of electrification.”
Miller then asked if ratepayers were “on the hook” for removal of the dam, at which point Linda Coates-Markle, Field Manager with the Wenatchee office of the Bureau of Land Management, spoke up, saying it was not known at this time if the dam would need to be removed.
“If there is a decision not to power the dam and revoke their right of way, then the BLM would require the PUD to remove any improvements on the property. But we need to find the original document from 1918 and read it.”
Coates-Markel said the missing document was written before the Bureau of Land Management was formed. “But I am not confident that the document will address decommission. Back then it was all about moving forward.”
Coates-Markle went on to say the BLM would support the PUD “in whatever way the want to go, because that is our role. The BLM is here to serve the public, not get in their way.”
Bob Thompson of Tonasket spoke up, saying, “Here we are, to a make or break decision and we don’t have the most crucial piece of information to this decision; the BLM piece.”
Chris Fisher, a Fisheries Biologist with the Colville Tribes Fish and Wildlife Department, said testing done on silt samples taken upstream from the dam for cadmium, copper and arsenic were all below levels known to cause effects.
“As of to date, it doesn’t seem like there is anything real detrimental to ecology and human health,” Fisher said, adding that samples were taken from five to eight feet deep.
Val Sukovotky of Methow she viewed an educational film at North Cascades Basecamp in Winthrop about the removal of another dam, and “had a hard time getting excited about something that is going to lose money every year.”
Rocky DeVon said it would cost more to remove the dam than to generate electricity.
“I would rather lose and gain something than just lose,” DeVon said.
Ed Poachman of Okanogan said he agreed that “renewable power is in the future and hydropower is great, but to lose money is not great. And what might happen down the road?”
Commissioner Steve Houston replied, “We do have responsibilities as a dam owner, including emergency response and dam safety; things you do have to spend money on when you own a dam.”
Dan Isaac of Tonasket said he had been following the Enloe project since its inception, and that the issue was not about faith or politics, but finance.
“This is a question of fiscal responsibility, sound business judgment and personal integrity,” said Isaac. “The beauty of it is, we are something like $35 million in debt, and we propose to go further in debt. We are told we don’t understand business, but I’m asking you ‘Who pays the interest?’”
When he received the answer, “the ratepayers,” Isaac went on to say, “This is not going to impact a small group, but every rancher, every resident of this district. When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging. Now is the time for change. We gave you our trust based on your integrity. It is time to honor your commitment to do what you said you would do. This is a poor county, by the way. We can’t afford to carry this debt load. We are talking about a 30-year commitment. This is an issue of honor, not just economics.”
Alan Fisk of Nighthawk criticized the PUD with having “taken on the personality of a corporation.”
Fisk said as a gold dredger, “I like to dredge deep and I know it’s not going to take that much to get the silt out.”
He said there had not been enough research done into how much it was going to cost to take the dam out, but he believed it was not going to cost that much. “We are not a corporation here.”
“You are the PUD, we are ratepayers, and you work for us,” he said.
Mike Ward said forecasting prices of electricity down the road and counting on them to increase was not fair to the ratepayers, and to consider what would happen when other contingencies arise, such as the Carlton Complex Fire.
“It’s hard to put our money into something like that when it is tied up this way,” Ward said. “Please either vote no or defer this until we have some more pieces of important information.”