By Marcy Stamper
A state board has upheld the decision for the Okanogan County Public Utility District (PUD) to use a streamlined process to construct Enloe Dam after hearing an appeal on Tuesday (June 6).
The Capital Projects Advisory Review Board upheld the determination that the Enloe Hydroelectric Project qualifies for the design-build method, according to Linda Kent, a spokesperson for the Washington Department of Enterprise Services.
The decision on the appeal comes as the PUD faces a looming federal deadline to start construction on Enloe within the month.
The Columbia River Bioregional Education Project (Columbiana) had appealed a unanimous April decision by the board’s project-review committee to allow the PUD to hire a single firm to design and build the 9-megawatt hydroelectric plant near Oroville.
In the appeal, Columbiana argued that the PUD failed to show that the design-build process would save money for ratepayers. Without a separate design phase, the PUD would be selecting a contractor without knowing the final cost of Enloe, they contended.
While the committee that authorized the process was limited to a narrow analysis of the design-build approach — and not the merits of Enloe Dam overall — Columbiana said in the appeal, “OPUD [Okanogan PUD] cannot demonstrate the ‘substantial fiscal benefit’ of using design-build on a project that is fundamentally economically flawed.”
In its response, the PUD said Columbiana “misunderstands the advantages of design-build.” Design-build will in fact provide a “more reliable cost estimate based on [the design-builder’s] involvement in the design process and greater familiarity with site conditions,” the utility said.
The appeal also stated that the board should have required a review of the potential environmental impacts of Enloe. But the PUD said the board’s jurisdiction applies only to the narrow decision over the contracting process and does not directly modify the environment.
Columbiana argued that the PUD’s consultants don’t have the necessary qualifications to administer a design-build contract, but the PUD pointed to the significant collective experience of its team.
The design-build process is intended to streamline construction and to save money over the traditional method, in which a firm designs a project and then the project sponsor solicits bids for construction.
Working on contract
PUD staff are already negotiating a contract with Mountain States Hydro for the design and construction of Enloe, after getting the go-ahead from the PUD commissioners on May 23.
Mountain States Hydro is one of nine firms that responded to the PUD’s solicitation for design-build services last fall. A PUD committee selected four finalists to submit project proposals.
The PUD had a head start on picking a design-build partner because it has been seeking approval to use the expedited process since last fall. The utility had already received applications when the process was delayed after an initial appeal by Columbiana over inadequate public notice for the design-build hearing. The board agreed to reschedule the hearing in April.
Over the past decade, Mountain States Hydro has designed and built one hydroelectric facility in Idaho and five other hydropower projects in Colorado. The company is headquartered near Yakima.
The PUD and its design-build partner are up against a tight deadline, since the federal license to build the dam requires them to start construction by July 9.
Enloe Dam hasn’t produced power for more than 50 years. Columbiana has been an active opponent of reenergizing the dam for more than a decade.
According to a chart the PUD submitted to the board, there have been 26 phases of litigation over Enloe since 2012.
An official letter about the board’s decision on the appeal is being drafted and will be posted online no later than June 19, said Kent.