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Swan Lake hydro’s future awaits FERC decision
Comments collected for final environmental study

Public comments have been collected, now it is a waiting game for a final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to be issued by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for the next phase in development of a large-scale hydroelectric plant in Klamath County.

Known as the Swan Lake North Pumped Storage project, the proposed facility would be located 11 miles northeast of Klamath Falls, encompassing two large man-made lakes at different elevations connected through a pumping station. Utilizing gravity, water flowing from the upper reservoir to the lower lake would turn a large turbine to generate electricity, and then would be pumped back to the upper reservoir. The project is estimated to be able to power approximately 600,000 homes (or 1,187 gigawatt-hours) annually for 45 years once operational. The project would be located on 730 acres of federal, state and private lands.

In development for several years, the project has exchanged hands several times. Originally proposed by EDF Renewable Energy in 2009, after several exchanges the project most recently changed oversight to Rye Development and GridAmerica in 2017 under the joint collaboration Swan Lake Holdings LLC.

Awaiting licensing

Currently, the project awaits its FERC-issued final EIS for a hydropower license, following completion of a recent public comment period after a draft EIS was released in August. The Commission’s final EIS is due sometime this month, though there is no word whether the current government shutdown may affect the published timeline.

In December 2017, FERC approved a license application review, which concluded that “with appropriate environmental protective measures it would not constitute a major federal action that would significantly affect quality of the human environment.” The draft EIS covered extensive staff analyses of potential environmental impacts as a result of the project.

The Oregon Parks and Recreation Department on Nov. 21 issued a notice to the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation regarding the Swan Lake Project, stating that, “numerous rock features sites that have been determined eligible to the National Register under a minimum of one criteria could be affected by the proposed project either directly or indirectly.”

Archaeological sites

Concerns initially raised by Klamath Tribes to Oregon Parks and Rec’s State Historic Preservation Office about the site’s sensitive nature are among the many issues to be under consideration when FERC releases its final EIS. This was reaffirmed in a Dec. 12 letter by Oregon State Archaeologist Dennis Griffin to FERC stating, “The project involves many identified sites that are both archaeological and cultural in nature and our office wants to be sure that tribal concerns are given the opportunity to be adequately heard and addressed.”

A day later, a memo was issued affirming that FERC staff had confirmed with U.S. Fish and Wildlife that the proposed site would not impact habitats or species that have been identified as federally threatened or endangered.

To address public concerns, a hearing was held at Oregon Tech on Sept. 26 to collect public comments and answer questions about the draft EIS. Comments were also submitted online for FERC consideration.

Among those who opposed the Swan Lake Project were Cheryl Madsen of Bonanza, who noted that the final proposed site would impact their 3.2-acre home site south of Harpold Dam and would be directly in line with the power line river crossing. “We sold the home and property, but retained the 3.25 acres as a future building site or investment property,” Madsen stated. “Now the proposed power line river crossing will destroy our future plans and the value of our property.”

The Klamath Tribes issued formal opposition to the project submitted by Tribal Chairman Don Gentry in October during the public comment period, which stated, “The Klamath Tribes opposes the licensing and construction of the Project at this location because it would destroy and adversely affect many cultural and sacred resources in the Swan Lake Rim area that continue to have great spiritual value to members of the Tribes.”

Darcy Hill of Klamath Falls was also outspoken against the project, citing water concerns for filling reservoirs, power lines being installed near homes, few long-term employment prospects, and the means in which the plant is expected to generate profits. “Instead of generating cheap, green, reliable energy, it appears to only be a profit-generating machine for Rye Development and its investors that will negatively impact Klamath County in the long-run,” said Hill.

Issues not addressed

To better coordinate public response, a group in Dairy formed the “Citizens to Protect the Swan Lake Community.” Their formal opposition, co-signed by more than 40 residents issued on Oct. 29, responded to the draft EIS with concerns that it didn’t address changes in ownership and land use patterns, location of power lines, impact to groundwater availability in Chiloquin and Bly particularly during drought conditions, proximity to the Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge, and impact of cultural resources.

“We do not oppose a well conceived and designed project which benefits the community,” stated the group’s formal statement to FERC. “This project, of which we will receive no benefit, will bisect our farmlands and remove property from agricultural production. The development of roads and placement of power poles will increase costs of irrigation and farming, cause erosion, dust and weed control, and interfere with our quality of life and our property values.”

Other comments issued reaffirmed public concerns over location of power lines, adverse impacts to property values, impact to agricultural operations and groundwater availability, and the draft EIS’ lack of a no-action alternative.

The Swan Lake North Hydroelectric Project is expected to begin construction in 2019, if all permits are approved. Once reservoirs are filled, a process that could take an additional two years, operations could begin as soon as 2023. Swan Lake Hydro is estimated to create 3,363 equivalent-jobs from development and construction, and would provide around 30 jobs for operations and maintenance.

email kliedtke@heraldandnews.com @kliedtkeHN



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