Comment Sought on Dam Managementby Associated Press
Capital Press - December 28, 2001
YAKIMA, Wash. (AP) -- Ray Slockish Sr. is trying to decide what he thinks about the partnership between the Yakama Nation and PacifiCorp that hopes to take control of two Columbia River dams.
"My primary concern is with the overall economic venture -- whether it's beneficial to the Yakama Nation or just to the backer of the project, PacifiCorp and its investors," said Slockish, chairman of the tribe's code of ethics committee.
"Will we just get the crumbs, and they get the cake? We've gotten into ventures before that haven't benefited the tribe."
Slockish, 50, of Harrah, attended an open house here Dec. 13 to get more information about the Yakama Hydroelectric Project, the partnership the tribe and the investor-owner utility have formed to bid on the operating license for the Wanapum and Priest Rapids dams.
The dams currently are operated by the Grant County Public Utility District, which wants the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to renew its license for another 30 to 50 years. The license renewal aplications are due in 2003. Grant County PUD's license expires in 2005.
PacifiCorp and the Yakama Nation are using public meetings to get a better sense of what people want from managers of the two dams, which generate just under 2,000 megawatts of electricity -- about twice the amount used to power a city the size of Seattle.
"The more interest the better," said Clark Satre, regional manager for Pacific Power, a division of Portland, Ore. -based PacifiCorp.
PacifiCorp and the Yakama Nation contend they can do a better job managing the two dams, 10 miles apart, than Grant County PUD, which has challenged anyone to find fault with its stewardship.
Grant County PUD doesn't take the competition lightly.
"I've characterized this as going to war and I mean that literally," farmer Tom Flint, a PUD commissioner, told the Columbia Basin Herald. "It's a big issue."
The dams are in a section of the 10 million acres in Central Washington that the 14 bands and tribes that make up the Yakama Nation ceded by treaty to the U.S. government in 1855.
The treaty guarantees the Yakama Nation's historic role in managing fish and wildlife and other cultural resources in the territory.
When the PUD's license expires in 2005, so do many of its sales contracts, as well as its obligation to sell power at cost. If the PUD wins a renewal, it would also be able to keep more power for use in Grant County.
PacifiCorp and the Yakama Nation said that under their management the low-cost power would be distributed more broadly throughout the Pacific Northwest.
Under the new contract Grant PUD has offered PacifiCorp, Pacific Power's customers would have to bear anywhere from $800 million to $1.45 billion in new electricity costs, said Dave Kvamme, a spokesman for PacifiCorp.
"We don't think that's fair," he said.
PacifiCorp and a dozen other utilities and municipalities, through long-term contracts signed with Grant County PUD nearly a half-century ago, helped pay for the construction of the two dams.
"We guaranteed the loans that Grant got," Kvamme said. "We believe we have a stake in these projects, too, and should be allowed to continue receiving benefits from this project."
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