Enloe project making strange bedfellows

Editorial Gary MugWhile it wasn’t that long ago it was people for the re-electrification of Enloe Dam versus those against it, mainly environmental groups who wanted to pull the dam out and free the Similkameen River. It took years of spending millions of dollars, but Okanogan County PUD seems to have accomplished something no one thought could happen – uniting the environmentalists with the farmers, ranchers, Republicans, you name it – all in an effort to stop the Enloe Dam re-electrification project. Strange bedfellows indeed.

Of course these groups have different goals in mind, but they are united by one factor – cost. The numbers just don’t pencil out. Even if the dam were ungraded and a new powerhouse built, we continue to lose money on the venture well into the future. That didn’t even make sense before the PUD spent $6 million on a new headquarters, despite our electric rates going up. The argument it was all money from excess power sales did little to sooth our wounds. It could have been better spent on upgrading equipment or put aside in a capital improvement fund or even to keep rate increases down. Or negotiate a bigger percentage of Wells Dam for a more secure source of power than we are get from the BPA.

The market fluctuates but right now the cost of generating electricity from natural gas is so low it has taken away our ability to make big bucks off excess power sales. No one could have predicted this 20 years ago, even 10, but it is a fact right now. Who know if and when that will change anywhere in the foreseeable future and make Enloe power a profitable commodity.

If we wait it won’t get any cheaper to rehab the dam – but the time to have done so is now water over… well you know. Our best bet might have been nearly three decades ago when a Bellevue-based company was going to rehab it, sell the power and turn it back over to the PUD after 10 years. So-called environmental interests shut that down over a demand for expensive fish ladders. These would have created a fish run into Canada that their government and the local Indian Bands did not support. A run that did not exist, according to tribal lore and scientific study, before the dam was built in the first place.

While there are groups united against placing a further burden on the ratepayers, there are still separate agendas out there. Some of the same environmentalists would like to pull the dam out altogether, while other groups would like to keep it as a historical part of Similkameen dating back to around the turn of the previous century. Others worry about the cost of pulling the dam out and who would shoulder the burden and what kind of mess it would create. Someone will have to pay and the ratepayers would not like that either. Claiming federal agencies will step in to remove it and clean up all the silt that would wash down river is easy to say, but until we see Congress actually appropriate the funds pardon us if we remain skeptical.

The best of all worlds would be a historical dam left on the river as a tourist attraction with no cost to the ratepayers or taxpayers. If the PUD has to spend money, look for some grant money to shore up the old powerhouses and make it a tourist attraction on the Similkameen Trail, put out a couple tables for trail users to sit and watch the majesty that is the Similkameen River as it cascades over old Enloe. Work with the Borderlands Historical Society and put up some historic photos of the railroad, early dam development and mount some webcams so we can all enjoy it no matter where we are.