A plan to create a dam at Sunset Falls near Index has been scaled back.
At a meeting with residents in Index last week at which relief for landslide victims there was discussed, county officials also explained changes to plans for a hydroelectric project near there.
Snohomish County Public Utility District Engineer Scott Spahr provided an update on the Sunset Fish Passage and Energy Project, as well as a new proposal which is being worked out between Mt. Index Riversites Community Club (MIRCC) and the PUD to install a new bridge at Canyon Falls which would establish connectivity for the Mount Index Riversites residents, many of whom have to walk in and out to their homes since a landslide wiped out road access.
Spahr covered the revised hydroelectric project proposal first.
“I think we’ve come up with some interesting changes here,” said Spahr.
Originally, the project included a 132-foot wide, seven-foot-high inflatable dam or weir, which raised and lowered dependent on the river’s rate of flow. The weir was to be installed onto a 260-foot concrete bed set deep into the river’s sedimentary floor.
After additional study, it was determined that the project could be achieved without any sort of cross-river structure.
Instead, the project would capitalize on the river’s natural 180-degree bend, which creates a natural pool of water. A submerged intake system would be crafted at the original intake site, which would divert the water through an underground tunnel to a powerhouse located at the base of Sunset Falls.
The newly designed tunnel, which would be dug out of solid bedrock with controlled dynamite charges, would proceed for the first 600 feet at 22-feet in diameter, which is slightly larger than before, to accommodate additional lighting. The remaining 1500 feet of tunnel would be 19-feet in diameter, which is consistent with the project’s original design.
The PUD has also decided against constructing the extensive underground cavern that was to be set into the bedrock near the intake site, and have redesigned the powerhouse facility located at Sunset Falls. The powerhouse, which was originally intended to be three-stories tall, would now be primarily underground.
The PUD is still in the process of determining if the project is feasible. They will be performing 17 in-depth studies throughout the year to closely analyze traffic impacts, noise, aesthetics and much more. A complete list of the PUD’s studies can be found on their website. They hope to file their study report with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission by January 30, 2015.
“All this moving forward is up to the results of the studies,” said Spahr. “And that’s a process that takes time.”
For additional information about the new design, please see PUD’s website: http://www.snopud.com/.
The PUD asked the MIRCC to appoint a representative who can sit on the committee overseeing the recreation study. The new revisions shave over 10 million dollars in construction costs off the project’s total projected cost.
SOME RESIDENTS STILL OPPOSED TO THE SUNSET HYDROELECTRIC PROJECT
Index resident Jeff Smith, who lives immediately adjacent to the proposed intake area, has been opposed to the project ever since it was planned for a portion of his yard. Several revisions later, Smith maintains that the south fork of the Skykomish River is an inappropriate place for any type of large-scale industrial project.
“Removing the weir doesn’t change anything for us,” said Smith. “It’s still an industrial project in a natural area. I think it will help the aesthetics to some extent, but it’s still an inappropriate place for a dam project.”
Further troubling to Smith is the potential bridge agreement and what it may entail. The plans for the construction of the Sunset hydroelectric project have always included a bridge so if the MIRCC pays for costs associated with the bridge and the hydroelectric project proceeds, the PUD will actually be saving money.
“All those things get kind of jumbled up,” said Smith. “Right now it’s an emergency situation and I think PUD is acting like they’re a white knight. It’s good that they’re helping us, but we’re helping them, too.”
Also problematic is the consistently unstable hillside. Blasting an underground tunnel into an area rife with landslides seems a bit risky to many dam opponents. It is hoped that further geotechnical testing will accurately determine any potential risks.
“In theory, that’s what some of their studies are supposed to assess and analyze,” said Smith.
Smith is passionate about the area’s natural beauty and hopes that the planned recreation study will take into account the nearby Lake Serene Trail.
“The lake Serene trail is one of the most heavily used trails in the state,” said Smith. “That’s a fact; that’s not a maybe. The project is directly below the trail.”
The PUD hopes to have newly-drawn representations of what the new design will look like up on their website soon. They will also be conducting a survey to obtain direct feedback.
In the meantime, the MIRCC has been in negotiations with the Snohomish County PUD in order to obtain an immediate solution to the problem of ingress and egress to the Mt. Index Riversites community. They are currently considering a 140-foot bridge to be installed near Canyon Falls, which would enable residents direct access to U.S. 2. from the west side of the river.
Spahr said that the PUD has discussed the matter in an official capacity and is willing to consider an agreement proposal drafted by the MIRCC to facilitate the construction of a bridge. He stated that the final decision will need to be made by PUD’s elected commissioners, but that he and his boss will advocate for the agreement.
Depending on how soon they obtain the agreement from MIRCC, the issue could potentially be on the agenda at the May 6 PUD Commission Meeting.
Earl Van Buskirk, who sits on the MIRCC Board of Directors, gave financial data in regards to the current status of the bridge.
So far, the MIRCC has paid $7,500 for bridge engineering, plus $2,500 for additional abutment engineering. They had a $13,000 total budget dedicated for the engineering work and managed to keep the costs at $10,000.
After negotiations with the bridge company, the total cost of the bridge would be $274,000. In order to have the bridge delivered and see that construction proceeds as soon as possible, the board needs to come up with approximately $24,000 which would cover delivery plus the first month’s bridge payment.
The bridge payments would be broken down into a series of 47 payments of $6,300 each, of which PUD may share in the costs, depending on if an agreement is reached.
There will also be construction costs once the bridge arrives on site. Van Buskirk estimated in between $70,000 and $95,000 in construction costs. He is currently working with the bridge company to see about having the sales tax removed from the purchase, something that may be possible because of the emergency circumstances.
Van Buskirk said that, if they succeed in getting a satisfactory agreement before the commissioners on May 6, theoretically, the bridge could be ordered on May 7. Potentially, the bridge could be in place and being utilized by mid-June.
He said that, if the agreement does not get approval in May, they will need to explore other options and figure out how to pay for the bridge on their own.
“That’s not insurmountable,” said Van Buskirk.