OKANOGAN The Okanogan County Public Utility District officials say it could cost more than $1 billion to remove Enloe Dam.
The utility hosted a public hearing last Tuesday on the proposal to earmark $5.4 million for the dam in the proposed 2014 budget. But ratepayers in attendance were more interested in the future costs of the project and removing the dam.
Commissioner Ernest Bolz said the utility has two options from the federal Bureau of Land Management – use it or remove it. The bureau owns the dam site property.
“Construction of the dam and operating it makes the most sense,” he said, noting a final decision has yet to be made.
“It sounds to me like the PUD has decided to go ahead,” Oroville resident and dam opponent Rick Gillespie said.
At issue is whether the utility should upgrade the Enloe Dam powerhouse at a projected cost of $35.2 million.
General Manager John Grubich said the utility is looking at options.
But when Gillespie pressed him to identify other options, Commis-sioner Dave Womack said, “I don’t know if we’re fully at liberty to say.”
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which issued a 50-year license for Enloe Dam operation in July, is considering an appeal filed in August by American Whitewater. The organization, backed by others who have been working to preserve the nearby Similkameen Falls, claims the commission didn’t consider the environmental and economic impacts of the minimum required flow of the falls when it issued the license.
If the appeal falls in the utility’s favor, it could move forward with planning and design or removal of the dam.
But utility officials said nobody has come forward with information on how or who would pay for dam breaching and removal of contaminated sediment behind the structure.
While the utility hasn’t officially determined to proceed with replacing the powerhouse, Bolz appears to have made up his mind.
“What I don’t want to see us have to do is put in another $10 to $20 million just to do studies on removal,” he said.
Crumbacher resident and PUD Action Committee member Dan Isaac said he’d rather see his rates double to pay for removal of the dam than pay to renovate the powerhouse and maintain it for 50 years.
“If we borrowed the money and tear the dam down, it’s a one-shot deal,” he said. “Bite the bullet and tear the dam down. That way, we’re not under a financial encumbrance of 50 years.”
Utility Regulatory and Environmental Affairs Director Dan Boettger estimated the removal price between $375 million and more than $1 billion.
Boettger cited the Elwha Dam Removal Project – on the Olympic Peninsula west between Port Angeles and Joyce – as an example.
There, the federal government is spending $325 million to remove both the Glines Canyon and Elwha dams and restore the Elwha River to near-pristine condition.
The federal government said the Elwha is the largest dam-removal project in history.
Another option would be to “punch a hole” in the dam to decommission it, Boettger said, which was done to the Condit Dam in Klickitat County in 2011 at a cost of $35 million.
“For me, the better alternative at this point is to build a dam, generate power and sell it,” Bolz said, noting that some power could be sold outside of Okanogan County.
Some objected to the utility’s memorandum of understanding with the Colville Tribe, signed in 2009, allowing the tribe to purchase up to 49 percent of the power generated by Enloe Dam at cost.
According to the agreement, by the time the tribe will be able to purchase power on Jan. 1, 2019, the utility will have a larger share of power through Wells Dam.
The entities agreed to seek grant funding together and share annual audit costs.
When one resident objected to selling power at cost, Commissioner Steve Houston said the utility has to sell power that way because it is a public entity.
Isaac suggested the utility ask ratepayers what they would like to see happen to Enloe Dam through a poll on their monthly bill.
“Ask the people what it is they want done with their money,” he said.
“My impression is almost no ratepayers want to see the Enloe Dam project go forward,” said Jere Gillespie with the Columbia River Bioregional Education Project.
Oroville resident Joseph Enzensperger shared a similar opinion, calling the project “irresponsible and wrong-headed.”
Once renovated, the dam could generate 9 megawatts at its peak, or an average of about 4.5 megawatts. The utility estimated that would be enough to power approximately 3,500 homes, depending on the time of the year.
The utility has two years from the time it received its FERC license to start construction. Officials have tentatively scheduled completion for 2018, if the most recent appeal is settled without further appeals.