Group demands dam be breached
OROVILLE – While the Okanogan County PUD would like to generate power at Enloe Dam a group of opponents is pushing breaching the historic dam – the question is who would bear cost of a breach which could top $100 million.
Rick and Jeré Gillespie, whose opposition to relicensing Enloe, which is located near Oroville on the Similkameen River, stretches back a quarter century. They were instrumental in placing a poll in a mid-county newspaper asking people to vote on whether the PUD should continue their efforts to bring power generation back to the dam after more than 60 years, or whether the dam should be pulled out. Both could be pricy propositions, especially the clean-up of silt that has gathered behind the dam for most of the last century.
However it looks like the option of the PUD just walking away and doing nothing has been taken off the table as federal agencies, such as the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and others have requested the dam be removed if it is no longer used for power generation. The question is who will pay for the removal and clean-up. Via the Facebook page “Friends of the Similkameen,” the Gillespies are urging people to vote for “Breach the dam and end debate.” They claim that the BLM, Bureau of Reclamation, NOAA, U.S. Fish and Wildlife and the Bonneville Power Administration will foot the bill for removal and clean up of sediment and that ratepayers would only be responsible of the PUD continues to pursue power generation.
John Grubich, general manager of Okanogan County PUD isn’t so sure.
“The opponents of the dam have made those assertions several times. However, we have been unable to get any federal agency (BLM, BPA, USF&W etc.) to indicate that they would pay for the cost of removal. Jeri has stated in our public meetings that Congress has allocated funds for dam removal about three decades ago and is certain those funds are still available. I have not been able to run that to ground either,” said Grubich.
The PUD Manager agrees that someone will have to pay for removal and if it isn’t the federal government it will be Okanogan County PUD ratepayers.
“The dam is physically located on BLM property and they have indicated that if we do not pursue power generation they want it removed. While they are soft pedaling that now a year and a half ago they were pretty insistent,” said Grubich, who adds the cost would be a bare minimum of $35 to $40 million just to breach.”
He said the cost of permitting and cleanup could drive the price considerably higher, especially when all the contamination from mining operations in the last century is taken into consideration.
“The most recent dam breaches were very expensive, $105 million for the least expensive and the most expensive was $365 million,” he said.
While in the past, the Gillespies have stated to this newspaper they weren’t necessarily trying to force the dam’s removal only stop the pursuit of power generation because it would dewater the falls. All that seems to have changed.
“Both Jeré and Joseph Enzensperger have testified on the water quality permit on record saying they want the dam breached,” said Grubich.
The PUD GM wonders if the online poll is generating the community input from all areas of the county. He also wonders if there is enough awareness of the cost of breaching the dam and losing the energy resource versus the cost of pursuing renewable energy at Enloe.