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Kalispel tribe, PUD agree on new dam license

SPOKANE, Wash. – Box Canyon Dam will become friendlier to fish under a federally mediated deal that ends a decade of litigation over the structure’s new operating license.

The agreement between the Kalispel Tribe of Indians and the Pend Oreille County Public Utility District will help repair environmental damage caused by the dam when it was built in the 1950s. It’s the latest example of tribes using the dam relicensing process to correct wrongs of the past.

“The tribe is glad to have the settlement process completed,” tribal Chairman Glen Nenema said in a news release. “We look forward to beginning the important work of restoring and enhancing natural resources that are such a central part of our heritage and culture.”

A signing ceremony was held April 10 on the tribe’s reservation at Usk, about 45 miles north of Spokane.

The dam on the Pend Oreille River near Ione in northeastern Washington created a 55-mile-long reservoir that flooded one-tenth of the small Kalispel Reservation and inundated numerous cultural sites. It also submerged the rapids that halted explorer David Thompson’s quest to find a route from Idaho’s Lake Pend Oreille to the Columbia River.

Built without fish ladders, the dam caused a sharp decline in the bull trout that Indians ate. The tribe, which has more than 400 members, sought to restore those fisheries.

The utility applied for a new license in 2000, and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission relicensed the 67-megawatt dam in 2005. But FERC included environmental restoration conditions the utility estimated would cost $250 million and quadruple power rates.

The PUD challenged the license requirements, and a federal mediator was eventually used to strike the compromise. Negotiations also included Ponderay Newsprint, whose paper mill in Usk buys 90 percent of the dam’s power; the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and BIA.

While the new deal will cause power rates to rise, the PUD said, it was impossible to know how much at this time because the full costs of the work are not yet known.

“This was a team effort and we are glad that we were able to reach an agreement,” said Bob Geddes, PUD general manager.

The agreement for the 50-year license, valid until 2055, must still be approved by FERC, which can take up to six months.

Under the new license, the utility district must:

• Spend more than $50 million on a fish passage facility. It must remove non-native fish and reintroduce desirable trout species.

• Restore trout habitat on 164 miles of rivers and streams that flow into the Pend Oreille River over the next 25 years.

• Develop a plan to improve recreation facilities on the reservoir, and provide money for the tribe to build recreation facilities at the Pow Wow Grounds, Kalispel Boat Launch and Manresa Grotto Beach.

The utility district provides power to about 8,500 customers in Pend Oreille County.

Other tribes have used the relicensing process to correct past damage. Avista Corporation of Spokane recently agreed to pay up to $168 million over the next 50 years to compensate the Coeur d’Alene Tribe for storing water for power generation on the tribe’s submerged land in Lake Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.





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