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Thursday, April 08, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
Power plants at falls win ruling; Snoqualmies have 10 days to appeal
By Sara Jean Green
While acknowledging the significance of Snoqualmie Falls as a sacred site to the Snoqualmie Tribe, a state appeals-board ruling yesterday moved Puget Sound Energy one step closer to securing a long-term license to continue operating two hydroelectric power plants at the falls.
Snoqualmie Tribe officials who filed an appeal with the state Pollution Control Hearings Board in October have 10 days to ask the board to reconsider its decision and 30 days to appeal the ruling in Superior Court.
In appealing the state Department of Ecology's decision to issue a water-quality certification to the utility, the tribe argued that environmental requirements don't go far enough to protect water quality and fish habitat, and don't take into account the falls' cultural significance to tribal members.
For generations, Snoqualmie Falls has been a spiritual gathering place and ceremonial site for tribal members. Ultimately, the tribe would like the plants decommissioned.
In its 63-page ruling, the board upheld Ecology's decision to issue the water-quality certification but ordered another study to address concerns that juvenile fish could be stranded in the Snoqualmie River when more water is diverted into the utility's power plants.
Last month, the three-member board visited Snoqualmie Falls and heard testimony over four days at the board's offices in Lacey.
Puget Sound Energy has been trying to get a 30- to 50-year license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission since its last license expired in 1991.
Each year since then, the utility has been granted yearly licenses to operate its plants under old license provisions. The water-quality certification is an early step in determining the environmental requirements of a project.
A license from the commission would give Puget Sound Energy the stability it needs to make $40 million in improvements to its two power plants at the site, increasing annual capacity from 250,000 to 307,000 megawatt hours, Lloyd Pernela, manager of hydro licensing and compliance, said last month.
"The water flowing over the falls is considered to be life, and a gift from the Creator," the ruling says. "The mists, which arise from the water flowing from the falls, have a particular spiritual connection with members of the Snoqualmie Tribe."
But those interests aren't considered "beneficial uses" of water resources in state law and so "recognition of these interests is beyond the scope" of the certification process, the ruling stated.
The board encouraged the utility to "continue to work with the Snoqualmie Tribe to address their interests in providing more flows over the falls."
The board also "encourages Ecology to consider developing a regulation, which would address separate aesthetic interests of Tribes' in state water-quality law."
Tribal administrator Matt Mattson couldn't be reached for comment yesterday. A Puget Sound Energy official declined comment until utility employees had time to read and analyze the board's ruling.
Sara Jean Green: 206-515-5654 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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