By Marcy Stamper

Although the deadline to start construction that would allow power production on the Enloe Dam has passed, arguments over salmon habitat and a potential Congressional extension continue. The long-running battle over the fate of the disused dam is further complicated by additional calls for its complete removal.

The deadline for the Okanogan County Public Utility District (PUD) to start construction on Enloe expired in July. But the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has urged the federal agency that licenses hydropower projects to consider the impact the dam would have on endangered steelhead.

NMFS submitted a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) in early August saying that Chinook salmon have been seen jumping at the base of Enloe Dam in the Similkameen River, meaning the fish might be able to navigate Similkameen Falls.

Because steelhead are better at leaping than Chinook, NMFS scientists argued that steelhead also would also be able to navigate the falls. Upper Columbia River steelhead are listed as a federally endangered species.

Just before the PUD’s extension on a construction license expired, the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation called for outright removal of Enloe Dam.

The June resolution by the Colville Business Council unanimously backed a position taken by the Lower Similkameen Indian Band of British Columbia. The Similkameen Band passed a resolution four years ago opposing the production of electricity at Enloe and urging the PUD to remove the dam.

The Colville resolution favors “restoration of the Similkameen River to its historic and natural condition,” which includes opposition to artificial salmon passage and remediation of contaminated sediment behind the dam. There is a history of mining in the surrounding area, prompting worries about chemicals in the sediment.

In June, the PUD asked the federal energy commission for a two-year extension to its building license, saying that lawsuits opposing the dam had prevented the utility from moving ahead with the project.

In July, the House of Representatives unanimously passed a bill introduced by Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-4th District) that would allow FERC to grant up to three two-year extensions for the PUD to start construction on the 9-megawatt hydroelectric project. The Senate hasn’t taken up the bill yet.

FERC has not been able to take any action for months because the agency did not have a quorum. The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources approved two new commissioners in early August, allowing FERC to resume its business.

Meanwhile, a coalition of conservation groups is urging FERC to consider input from the public opposing the PUD’s request for another two year extension before construction has to begin. The group contends that the PUD didn’t file required engineering and finance plans for Enloe before the deadline.

Enloe’s long history

Over the past several years, the PUD has looked for an entity to build and operate the dam or to remove it. The PUD has made assumption of liability a condition of dam removal, and has said none of the parties interested in removal have provided a sufficient guarantee.

Since getting the go-ahead from a state board in June to use an expedited design/build process, the PUD has been in negotiations with Yakima-based Mountain States.

The PUD began the current license-application process with FERC a dozen years ago. The utility previously considered re-energizing Enloe Dam in the 1980s and 1990s, but rescinded those licenses because of economic conditions and uncertainty over fish passage.

The PUD acquired Enloe Dam in 1945 but has not produced power there since 1959, when less-expensive power from the Bonneville Power Administration reached the area.