Energy Futures
5:01 am
Wed January 29, 2014

Sunset Falls Dam Fight: Citizen Activists Accuse SnoPUD Of Waste, Secret Meeting

New accusations are fueling an ongoing controversy over a proposal to put a small inflatable dam on one of the Northwest’s scenic treasures. Opponents accuse the Snohomish County PUD of clouding the issue with confusing information and a secret meeting.

History Of The Proposed Dam

Snohomish County PUD says the dam would make environmental and economic sense. But the surrounding community has fought and prevented similar proposals five times in the past.

Andrea Matzke says she knows that small hydroelectric projects can make sense, but she’s worried this one on the Skykomish River would harm endangered salmon and steelhead and ruin Sunset Falls, one of most spectacular waterfalls in the state.

She and hundreds of community activists crowded into the firehouse at Index on Highway 2 last summer and helped plaster the area with signs and banners of opposition bearing statements like “No Dam Way.”

The Latest Controversy

Federal regulators are deciding how much study is required before a license is issued for the inflatable dam that would rise and fall with the flow of the river.

Matzke contends the local utility has been trying to get it past the community by issuing confusing information, and even meeting during the federal government shutdown in October.   

“The meeting was set up in the Department of Ecology’s office and that was closed. They [the opponents] couldn’t get in because of the shutdown,” she said. 

But Snohomish PUD Assistant General manager Kim Moore says that wasn’t the utility’s fault. The feds are the ones who insisted the meeting take place.

“So, you know, I don’t know what else we could have really done. It was scheduled, “ Moore said. “And the FERC [Federal Energy Regulatory Commission] told us they still wanted to have the meeting. So the federal government kind of dictated when they wanted to have the meeting and they told us not to cancel it.”

Moore says the proposed inflatable dam is designed to be fish-friendly and affordable while meeting the growing needs of an expanding population. And it’s also meant to help keep the utility carbon-neutral by generating power without greenhouse gas emissions.

Next Steps

On Thursday, FERC will issue its determination of which studies will be necessary to keep the proposal moving forward. Moore says nothing is final until a license is issued, but Snohomish County PUD has already authorized about $1 million in spending for the project’s studies.

Opponents are considering a lawsuit to stop the dam. Interested groups include Sierra Club and Earthjustice