FERC Rules Out More
by Ken Dey
Appeal on Hells Canyon complex missed deadline
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission won't order Idaho Power Co. to do more fish passage studies for its three-dam Hells Canyon complex.
On Thursday the four-member commission dismissed an appeal by American Rivers and Idaho Rivers United that was filed in June asking for additional studies the groups said were needed to help restore native salmon populations above the dams.
The commission didn't rule on the merits of the appeal, but dismissed it because it came in after a 30-day deadline to appeal.
"We're very disappointed (by the dismissal)," Jenna Borovansky, conservation director for Idaho Rivers United, said Friday. "Independent scientific studies and studies by all the fisheries agencies indicated more studies were needed for FERC to make a meaningful decision."
Amy Souers, a spokeswoman for America Rivers, said they still believe FERC doesn't have enough information on fish passage to make a decision. Souers said they're considering their options, but couldn't say at this point what they'd be.
The groups filed the appeal on June 11 in response to a May 4 commission order instructing Idaho Power to complete more studies and provide information on 14 different topics, but not fish passage.
At that time the commission said it had determined there was no need for additional studies because Idaho Power had provided "sufficient" information in its application to evaluate reasonable fish passage alternatives and strategies to restore native fish to areas above the Hells Canyon dams.
The environmental groups disagreed and filed the appeal. The Nez Perce Tribe filed a letter in support of the appeal, also arguing that more study was required.
The groups maintain that the Hells Canyon dams are the last barrier blocking native salmon from hundreds of miles of their historic habitat, and restoring fish passage at the dams should be a priority in Idaho Power's efforts to gain a new 30-year federal license to operate the dams.
The commission said their decision not requiring further fish passage studies doesn't guarantee that Idaho Power won't have to do more to help salmon get past the dams, but it does mean they won't have to spend more money to study the issue. Idaho Power Co. had also filed an appeal objecting to several of the 14 other studies FERC requested.
The company objected to requests for additional studies on flow restrictions and a request to study the feasibility of installing a device on Brownlee Dam to control the temperature of water discharged from the reservoir.
The company maintains the studies are costly and not needed.
Earlier this month, FERC denied Idaho Power's appeal and ordered the company to go ahead with the studies.
Idaho Power is in the process of trying to gain a new federal license to operate the three dams on the Snake River. The dams provide the bulk of hydroelectric power for the company. The current license granted in 1955 expires in the summer of 2005.
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