By Chris Hendrickson, Monitor
The Snohomish County Public Utility District held a meeting last week to present their proposed study plan for the Sunset Fish and Energy Project, a project which would include a diversion weir, or dam, be installed above the Sunset Falls area of the South Fork of the Skykomish River, located about one mile south of the town of Index.
The meeting was held in Everett at the PUD’s Administration Building at on Wednesday, Oct. 2. Index residents, members of Save the Sky River and American Whitewater were in attendance, as well as members of the Federal Regulatory Energy Commission, who were able to attend despite the government shutdown. The meeting was structured for the select purpose of presenting the PUD’s proposed study plan. Meeting attendees were given the opportunity to ask questions as each individual study plan was presented.
The dam proposal has faced much opposition thus far, not only from residents of the area but from local businesses, politicians, non-profit organizations, river advocacy programs and other environmental agencies.
The 132 foot weir would stretch across the Skykomish River approximately one mile from Sunset Falls. Inflatable in its design, the weir would measure seven feet in height during times of full inflation, and during times of either extremely high flows or very low river flows, the weir would lay flat on the bed of the river. A concrete foundation would be set into the riverbed.
The diverted water would enter into a subterranean intake area and flow through a tunnel, also underground, measuring 2,235 feet in length. The horseshoe shaped tunnel, which would be 19.5 feet in diameter, would be blasted out of the existing granite bedrock. The rerouted water would come out below Sunset Falls near the trap-and-haul, where a semi-underground powerhouse would be constructed. Improvements to the trap-and-haul facility would be made in conjunction with the project.
The PUD fielded continual questions as they presented individual study plans, making notes and listening to suggestions.
Residents continued to voice opposition.
Lynne Kelly lives on Bridal Veil Creek about a quarter of a mile downstream from Sunset Falls, and has lived there for 30 years. Bridal Veil Creek traverses from Lake Serene to the Skykomish River and is known to provide spawning habitat to Coho salmon.
The PUD allowed Kelly’s comment regardless of the fact that it didn’t necessarily apply to the study plan being presented at the time, but instead directly applied to the project as a whole.
“Snohomish County Code Enforcement has explained to me that with the current laws I cannot add onto my house or alter my house because of being within 200 feet of a creek that’s full of endangered species,” said Kelly. “And that, in fact, in the case of natural disaster such as earthquake or fire, I likely wouldn’t even have permission to rebuild.”
The South Fork of the Skykomish River features critical salmon habitat including spawning areas that are located above Sunset Falls.
“I’m very curious about all the mitigating circumstances you’re being faced with and how to sort of reconcile that this is happening around the corner from my house and such different rules apply,” said Kelly.
PUD Assistant General Manager of Generation Kim Moore responded to Kelly’s comment, as well as FERC Fish Biologist John Baummer.
Moore stressed that the presented studies are a part of PUD’s due diligence to determine if proceeding with the project is feasible. Once the project is deemed feasible and a license is obtained through the FERC, they would then need to go through the permitting process of numerous agencies.
“This is probably one of the most regulated processes there is,” said Moore.
“We’ll have numerous federal agencies, state agencies, a number of tribes, a number of non-governmental organizations looking it, as well as all of you, watching us every step of the way,” he continued.
“All these studies are designed for us to understand what the environmental effects of the project are,” said Baummer.
A complete list of the PUD’s proposed study plan can be found on their website. Concerned residents and river advocates have until December 1 to submit written comments to the FERC in response to the proposed study plan. At that point, PUD will have the opportunity to revise their study plan, which will then be submitted to the FERC. The revised study plan will be submitted by December 31.
To review the PUD’s study plan, visit: http://www.snopud.com/PowerSupply/hydro/sfpep/sfdocs/studyplans.ashx?p=2292.
For guidance on submitting comments against the proposal to the FERC, visit: http://www.savetheskyriver.org/.