FERC hearing on proposed Skykomish River hydro project

Jun 10, 2013

Federal officials will be in Index this week to hear from the public about a controversial proposal for a new dam on the Skykomish River.

Representatives from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will tour the proposed dam site at Sunset Falls, and take public comments as part of the licensing process.

Snohomish County PUD says it has scoured the region, looking for a hydropower project to help meet growing energy demands. Assistant general manager Kim Moore is in charge of the effort and will present the proposal at Wednesday evening’s public meeting.

“This is best economics of any of the hydro projects we’ve evaluated over a 5-year period," Moore said. "And we think the environmental issues are manageable, and that what we’ve proposed will address the concerns we’ve heard.”

He says it’s a low-impact design, for an inflatable rubber weir that would always have some water flowing over it, and would adjust with the strength of the river to keep water levels safe for endangered fish.

But its location, about a mile south of Index near two sets of dramatic water falls, has many locals concerned. Jeff Smith owns property that would be taken for the project if it’s built. He says it would disrupt one of the most spectacular wild and scenic spots in the country.

“People up here call it Yosemite of the West. And it’s directly below one of the most heavily used trails in the state of Washington, which is the Lake Serene trail," Smith says. "We estimate 1,200 to 1,500 people a weekend in the summer walking on that trail directly above the dam site.”

FERC says it will take issues such as these into consideration as it decides whether the project is in the public interest. The proposal is open for comments through July 19.