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TPU: 36-year pursuit of new license for Cushman dams finally over

Post by Lewis Kamb / The News Tribune on July 19, 2010 at 10:58 am |
July 19, 2010 10:58 am

After more than three and a half decades, Tacoma Power has a new lease on the operating life for two aging dams.

Tacoma Public Utilities issued a press release late Friday announcing that, after nearly 40 years, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has finally granted the city-owned utility a new license to operate the Cushman hydroelectric dams until 2048.

According to the press release, the new operating license, granted by FERC on Thursday, amended a previous licensing agreement to include the terms of a settlement between TPU and the Skokomish Tribe in 2008.

Under the settlement — which was contingent on the new license — TPU had agreed to pay $12.6 million and swap some 1,140 acres of property to the Skokomish. In exchange, the tribe agreed to drop a $5.6 billion lawsuit it had filed in 1999 that claimed the two Cushman dams wiped out treaty-protected fishing and hunting grounds and unlawfully enriched the City of Tacoma for decades.

The deal  hinged on Tacoma Power receiving the new operating license from FERC, which it had been seeking for decades. The city’s attempts to re-license the project dates to 1974, when the original license expired. Ever since, the Cushman dams have operated under temporary licenses while the long-term license was held up in a legal battle before federal regulators and in the courts.

“The acceptance of our licensing agreement by FERC ends years of uncertainty, mistrust and litigation for Tacoma Power and many others,” the press release quotes Tacoma Public Utilities Director Bill Gaines. “We can now confidently assure our customers that we will be able to continue to generate clean, renewable power for many yearsto come, and we can move forward with a new cooperative relationship with the Skokomish Tribe.”

The Cushman Project was Tacoma’s first major hydroelectric project, but the Skokomish Tribe has opposed it from the start. The first dam, completed in 1926, created Lake Cushman; the second dam, completed four years later, created the smaller Lake Kokanee.

Electricity from both dams are carried 40 miles to Tacoma, crossing the Narrows via cables strung near the Narrows bridge. The project produces enough power  to serve approximately 25,000 homes.

With the new license, Tacoma Power will seek to add new generators at the Cushman Project “to capture some of the energy from the flows released into the North Fork Skokomish River,” the press release states. “The three megawatts of electricity produced from that project will help Tacoma Power meet renewable energy targets mandated by state law.”

I’ve got a call into TPU spokeswoman Chris Gleason. In the meantime, here’s the press release:

Tacoma Power receives long-term license for Cushman Dam

After waiting more than 36 years, Tacoma Power has finally received an acceptable long-term license to operate the Cushman Hydroelectric Project. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued an order on Thursday that amended a license issued in 1998 to include the terms of the settlement agreement that Tacoma Power and other government agencies signed with the Skokomish Tribal Nation in January 2009.

The licensing agreement allows Tacoma Power to operate the Cushman Hydroelectric Project until 2048. The original federal license for the Cushman Project expired in 1974. Tacoma Power has operated the project under short-term licenses while the parties litigated relicensing. On Thursday, Tacoma Power received a 50-year license, the longest amount of time that FERC can grant, but it is retroactive to 1998 when the commission issued a license that was challenged by Tacoma Power and others.

“The acceptance of our licensing agreement by FERC ends years of uncertainty, mistrust and litigation for Tacoma Power and many others,” said Tacoma Public Utilities Director Bill Gaines. “We can now confidently assure our customers that we will be able to continue to generate clean, renewable power for many years to come, and we can move forward with a new cooperative relationship with the Skokomish Tribe.”

“We didn’t see any areas in which FERC altered the settlement agreement – this is almost unheard of,” said Mike Swiger, an attorney with Van Ness Feldman law firm, who has worked with Tacoma Power on the relicensing effort since 1992.

With the approval of the license, Tacoma Power can add new generators at the Cushman Hydroelectric Project to capture some of the energy from the flows released into the North Fork Skokomish River. The three megawatts of electricity produced from that project will help Tacoma Power meet renewable energy targets mandated by state law.

The license also sets in motion the settlement agreement with the Skokomish Tribal Nation, who will receive money and lands from Tacoma Power, including:

  • $12.6 million one-time cash payment
  • 7.25 percent of the value of electric production from the Cushman No. 2 powerhouse
  • Transfer of land valued at $23 million including the Camp Cushman on Lake Cushman, the 500-acre Nalley Ranch and Saltwater Park on Hood Canal.

“The Skokomish Indian Tribe is pleased that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has approved the issuance of a license for the Cushman Hydroelectric Project, as amended according to the terms of the settlement approved by the Tribe, the City of Tacoma, and the participating state and federal agencies,” said Joseph Pavel, Skokomish Tribal vice-chairman. “We look forward to working with the City as partners in the watershed implementing the conditions of the license.”

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About Tacoma Power

Tacoma Power serves 168,000 customers in Tacoma, University Place, Fircrest and portions of Fife, Lakewood, Federal Way, Steilacoom, Fort Lewis, McChord Air Force Base and other portions of Pierce County. www.tacomapower.com

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