Coeur d’Alene’s rewarded in settlement

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PLUMMER, Idaho – The Coeur d’Alene Tribe and Avista Corporation, a water-power company, recently signed a historic agreement that will result in payments to the tribe that could reach $168 million over the next 50 years. The payments are compensation for Avista’s use of tribal lands now and in the future for storing water to produce hydropower that began 102 years ago.

The dam at Post Falls was built in 1906. It controls water levels on Coeur d’Alene Lake, thus submerging tribal lands on the southern end of the lake and in the process damaging Native fisheries and exposing historic artifacts to looting as erosion revealed them.

The agreement was signed on Dec. 16, ending a decade-long period of negotiation. “Today is a very historic day for the Coeur d’Alene people. I am very proud. The sun was out; if you looked out this morning it was bright. It may have been cold but I know that our ancestors were looking down on us,” Tribal Chairman Chief James Allan said.

The agreement supports issuance of a 50-year license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for the Post Falls Dam and hydroelectric projects on the river and supports the continuation of existing water levels on the lake. Rights of way for transmission lines over tribal lands are also addressed along with future storage payments relating to the dam. Avista will pay the tribe for past and future use of submerged tribal lands and mitigation impacts on the natural and cultural resources on the Coeur d’Alene Reservation.

“It also provides a new foundation for the tribe and Avista to work cooperatively together,” Allan said in a press release. “The tribe’s goal has been and continues to be to strike a balance between the health and well-being of the lake and the needs of the local and regional economy.”

Compensation to the tribe for past storage of water totals $39 million and payments will be made over three years. Both entities have agreed on compensation for ongoing storage of water on the reservation which must also be submitted to FERC. It calls for payments of $400,000 a year for the first 20 years of a new license. The final 30 years of the 50-year license calls for payments of $700,000 per year.

Allan said that tribal members had received a payment as part of the $39 million trespass portion of the settlement. “The tribal council has the option to use some of the money for programs and improvements. Those decisions have not been made at this point.”

Avista has agreed to create a Coeur d’Alene resource protection trust fund which allows the tribe and Avista to collaborate on such things as water quality monitoring, shoreline erosion control, wetland restoration, replacement and maintenance, aquatic weed management and protection of cultural resources. This begins with Avista’s acceptance of a new license and assumes FERC agrees to a 50-year license term. At that point, Avista will place $100 million into the trust fund over the 50-year term.

Asked about the FERC’s approval and timing, Allan said, “I am very confident that FERC would issue the license this summer, possibly sooner.

“The $100 million is not discretionary funding. It must be used to meet the conditions of the license. That is set in stone. The tribe is developing a strategy to implement numerous projects and currently is prioritizing them. Once the license is issued, Avista will place $10 million in a third party account. This account will be used to fund projects associated with the conditions of the license. The tribe and Avista will manage natural resource projects together.

“It’s a good day for the tribe. Coeur d’Alene Lake is sacred. We have a spiritual connection to the lake. The $100 million will go toward protecting the lake and that is the most important thing.”

About 60 people gathered in the new Ernie Stensgar Pavilion at Circling Raven Golf Course on the Coeur d’Alene Reservation to witness this historic agreement signing. Stensgar delivered the invocation followed by comments and congratulations from various officials and the actual signing with Allan and Scott Morris, president and CEO of Avista.