Example Comments to FERC

Selected comments filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) on P-14295-001 Sunset Falls proposed dam project


July 4, 2013
Kimberly Bose, Secretary
Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
888 First St. NE
Washington D.C.  20426

Re:  P-14295-001  “Sunset Fish Passage and Energy Project”

Secretary Bose,

I am submitting public comments in opposition to the so-called “Sunset Fish Passage and Energy Project” proposed by Snohomish PUD, (SnoPUD).

FERC Must Value Stakeholder Opposition to Project 

I was a full time resident and now an occasional visitor to a river cabin on three lots that I owned at the exact site of the proposed ‘Diversion Weir’.            

I know this area quite well and am a Stakeholder.

From my explorations of this beautiful watershed I’ve came to love this special place and am writing to defend it against SnoPUD’s unwise and unnecessary development proposal.

My child was born here and christened in the river at the very rocks that Snohomish PUD wants to blast to smithereens.   In our family we call those rocks the ‘Picnic Rocks’.

Every year for 33 years we have celebrated that birthday on Picnic Rocks and in the same river cabin with a growing community of friends who have come to love this place.  At last count we have sent out over 1000 emails to friends.  Without exception ALL ARE OPPOSED and have signed a Petition to STOP this project. 

Several of us attended the FERC Hearing in Index, Wa., on June 12, 2013.

Negative Project Impacts

I am an architect with over 25 years of project design and management with considerable construction experience.  Prior to that I was a heavy equipment operator and member of the Operating Engineers Union, Local 302, Seattle, Washington.

Having lived in the project area SnoPUD proposes to develop, I have relevant professional experience in evaluating the design, scope and impact of the structures they propose to build. 

This will not be the “Low-Impact” project SnoPUD presents.

Over a 2 – 3 year period SnoPUD anticipates removing approximately 165,400 cubic yards of bedrock material requiring 16,000 truck trips.  This estimate does not include materials that will be imported to the site.

Our cabin was built on the native bedrock.  I was there the morning in 1980 when Mt. Saint Helens blew and shook the bedrock and cabin with such force that I ran up to the road above thinking to confront whoever was blasting with dynamite.  Yes, the folks who maintained the private road at that time would occasionally use dynamite to widen our narrow roads.

SnoPUD thinks it’s a good idea to spend 2 – 3 years blasting from our ‘Picnic Rocks’ all the way to Sunset Falls to build, according to their 5/30/13 Scoping Document 1:

“…an intake structure with three 15-foot-high, 30-foot-wide, 190-foot-long tunnels with slide gates and trashracks with 4-inch bar spacing; (4) a 75-foot-high, 120-foot-wide, 200-foot-long cavern structure with three V-shaped fish screens and trashracks with 1-inch bar spacing; (5) a 2,235-foot-long, 19.5-foot-diameter unlined, horseshoe-shaped power tunnel…”

I am likely one of few Stakeholders to have actually experienced blasting by others at this exact location, and therefore have a basis for real concern over SnoPUDs construction strategy. 

This concern regards not only the safety of project workers, local residents, cabins and homes, but also the likely negative impacts on wildlife, water and air quality, erosion, recreation, scenic beauty and traffic.

In addition to their proposed blasting, the project will require significant            in-stream work, tree clearing and road work, all of which will generate increased truck and heavy equipment traffic, diesel pollution and the potential for erosion including the release of native metals which could degrade water quality and contribute to acidification of the river water.

There will be negative local traffic impacts on residents attempting to use their private roads, as well as obvious public traffic safety issues with construction trucks turning onto busy Highway 2.  FERC should look closely at Washington Dept. of Transportation concerns about traffic safety on Highway 2.

Residents and visitors recreational experience will be negatively impacted for the duration of construction as SnoPUD steals the rare moments of tranquility Stakeholders seek in time spent at this place of refuge. 

Moreover, the character of one of Washington States remaining wild and free-running rivers will be forever lost so that SnoPUD  may develop a project of minimal Public Benefit, limited practical value, and questionable commercial value.

Additional Studies Required

FERC must require SnoPUD to undertake additional studies as part of a comprehensive evaluation of the proposed project.  These should include at minimum, an Environmental Impact Study, Recreation Study, Cultural Study, Climate Change/Green House Gas Study, and a detailed Economic Study comparing the proposed small hydro project with Alternative Options including Rooftop Solar Grid-Tied Distributed Energy, Wind Power, and greatly enhanced Energy Conservation programs for Utility subscribers.

Environmental Impact Study

SnoPUD should NOT be considered the ‘lead agency’ in determining whether or not they should be required to do an EIS.  This is an obvious conflict of interest.  FERC must require SnoPUD to undertake a truly independent EIS subject to public review and comments.

A FERC-required Environmental Impact Study, conducted by independent biologists with local knowledge will quantify the disruptions that I anticipate to ESA-threatened Chinook Salmon, as well as threatened resident Bull Trout, River Otters, aquatic birds, raptors and amphibians.

The proposed project area is ESA-designated critical habitat for Chinook salmon and Bull Trout and supports healthy populations of Coho salmon, Pink salmon, Chum salmon, Sockeye salmon, Steelhead, Rainbow Trout and Brook Trout. 

Other fish species present include Mountain Whitefish, Largescale Sucker, Pacific and Western Brook Lamprey, Longnose Dace and Sculpin.

South Fork Skykomish River as State/National Treasure & Public Commons

The South Fork of the Skykomish River is already a Washington State listed Wild and Scenic River.

With a National Wild and Scenic River designation, SnoPUDs proposed project would not be allowed. 

FERC will recall that Susie Roswall of the National Parks Service, a Stakeholder, spoke at the Index,Washington Hearing on June 12, 2013.   She identified Aesthetic Resources, Recreation, and National protection for the South Fork Sky as key issues for NPS.

The South Fork of the Skykomish River was already recommended to Congress for National Wild and Scenic River designation by the U.S. Forest Service. This was part of the 1990 Mt. Baker Snoqualmie National Forest Plan. 

The river is also listed by the National Park Service on the National Rivers Inventory with a potential classification as a recreational resource. 

This section of the Skykomish is noted as having ‘outstanding remarkable values’ including Scenery, Recreation, Fish and Wildlife.

FERC must not foreclose the Public Interest and decades-long effort to secure a National designation for the South Fork of the Skykomish River as a protected Wild and Scenic River. 

This exceptional free-running watershed is a part of our Public Commons that must be protected by FERC.

Climate Change and Green House Gas Impact

What contribution will the proposed project make on climate change ?

The construction of this project, and to a lesser extent its operation, will generate a significant carbon footprint.  This needs to be fully quantified by SnoPUD and evaluated during FERC’s project review. 

Dams have been found to mirror the predicted negative impacts of climate change.  The impacts that dams have already had on the Northwest’s rivers mirror the predicted impacts of climate change.  Dams and hydropower plants:

   1.  Increase damage to downstream migrating fish through abrasion

   2.  Reduce water oxygen levels

   3.  Reduce fish and wildlife resiliency

   4.  Disturb habitats

   5.  Alter amount and timing of stream flows

   6.  Increase water temperature

   7.  Decrease water quality & quantity

   8.  Reduce fish migration

   9.  Increase species extinction

 10.  Reduce river levels

Real Environmental Costs vs. Proposed ‘Benefit’                                                                                  

FERC must weigh the real environmental costs, such as contribution to Green House Gas and environmental degradation against any proposed benefits from this small hydro project that will generate only 1% of SnoPUDs projected power needs.

Alternate Renewable Options 

Solar energy currently represents less than 1% of SnoPUDs energy generation portfolio.  Wind energy represents approximately 1% of their portfolio.

SnoPUD boasts that their existing Rooftop Solar program is one of the most successful small scale solar projects in Washington State.                                                 

Why not expand on that success ?

SnoPUD misleads on solar options by stating that a viable solar project of similar power generation scale could only be constructed in Eastern Washington requiring an expensive transmission line component which effectively eliminates solar from their consideration.

SnoPUDs Scoping Documents fail to explore a Rooftop Solar Distributed Generation Option.

Rooftop Solar Option

A Rooftop Solar Option would be superior to SnoPUDs proposed project, providing the same or greater percentage of renewable power.  Grid-tied, rooftop solar photovoltaic systems are viable in Western Washington.

SnoPUD could use their projected hydro project budget of $ 120 – 170 million to greatly expand their existing Rooftop Solar program to subsidize energy production on their subscribers homes and commercial buildings. 

Washington State provides very attractive net metering incentives for grid-tied solar systems, and particularly those utilizing Washington State manufactured components.  There would be a compound economic benefit from investment in this option.

Solar power generated from a Rooftop Solar Option would qualify under Washington State law as part of SnoPUD’s required renewable energy portfolio. 

SnoPUDs proposed small hydro project does not qualify under this law. 

However, we know that California and other states would like to buy Washington State hydro power and hydro power ‘credits’ to meet their own requirements for renewable energy portfolios in other States. 

Given that hydro appears to make up as much as 97 % of SnoPUDs power portfolio, it would not surprising to learn that they already have out of state buyers for hydro power and/or hydro power project credits. 

FERC should determine if this is motivating factor or potential future benefit for SnoPUDs proposal. 

As the Skykomish River is a treasured Public Commons, why would Stakeholders sacrifice our Washington State Wild and Scenic designated river so that SnoPUD can speculate in the renewable credits market ?

Again, FERC must consider our Public Interest in evaluating this project.   I believe the Public Interest impartially weighed would favor Alternate Renewable Options, or the No-Action Option.

This is NOT a ‘Fish Passage Project’

SnoPUD calls the proposed project the “Sunset Fish Passage and Energy Project”.

In reality, the ‘Fish Trap and Haul’ and the ‘Small Hydro Power Dam’ are separate project elements that SnoPUD has packaged as a single project to induce support of the hydro power element of their proposal. 

For example, without Tribal support, SnoPUDs proposal cannot be built.

While a clever marketing strategy, it also demonstrates that the proposed hydro project is so weak on the merits of energy production that SnoPUD manufactured a secondary project element as an associated ‘benefit’.  

We understand why the Tulalip Tribe, and others, support the Fish Trap and Haul element of the proposed project.

However, it’s very likely that the Tribes would oppose SnoPUDs hydro power project as a threat to fisheries if the hydro power element was proposed as a stand-alone project, without enhancements to the fish trap and haul.

There is no reason that FERC should credit this secondary project element as mitigation in order to justify granting license to the proposed hydro project.

FERC should consider the cumulative impact of SnoPUDs extensive hydro power projects and require SnoPUD to make the proposed improvements to the Fish Trap and Haul as mitigation for the totality of SnoPUDs existing hydro projects impact on fisheries, ecosystems, recreation and scenic beauty.                                             

Threat of Eminent Domain

FERC should recognize the threat of seizing private and/or public property for this project does not serve the Public Interest.  FERC must disallow this spurious method of obtaining ownership or access easements to the proposed project sites for this, or any future project SnoPUD contemplates on these sites.

Climate Disruption 

The climate disruption that scientists are able to predict and that we are already experiencing, require that we make environmentally appropriate choices in all of our development efforts. 

The goal of providing renewable energy and slowing climate disruption would best be accomplished by Alternate Renewable Options such as an expanded Rooftop Solar program, or a significant investment in Wind Energy, or partnerships with local farmers to expand production of electricity from methane.

‘No Action’ Alternate

SnoPUD must be willing to exercise their responsibility to the Public as a Utility District to assist in halting climate disruption by switching to Solar, Wind or Methane Alternate Renewable Options.

However, if SnoPUD insists on inflicting the significant environmental destruction implicit in their proposed hydro project, I would support the No Action Alternate with the following additional requirements:

1.  That SnoPUD must return any ownership interest, easement, or access-only interest in local property acquired, optioned or leased, to the property owners,

2.  Provide complete environmental restoration of all areas in their study and work areas,

3.  Remove the new measurement gauge at the site of the Diversion Weir,

4.  Provide compensation to residents and other Stakeholders by establishing a local, community-administered ‘Conservation Fund’ to assist with the protection and enhancement of our Wild and Scenic Skykomish River.

In closing, all of us who support the preservation of this Wild and Scenic Skykomish River ecosystem and assume responsibility in the universal effort to halt climate disruption through our choice of appropriate local development options will be closely following FERCs project review and determinations.

Thank you, Art Petersen