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May 8, 2021

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Seattle utility submits revised Skagit River dams study plan for review

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MOUNT VERNON — A public utility in Seattle has broadened its study plan for the relicensing of its Skagit River dams in response to requests from the Upper Skagit Indian Tribe and other stakeholders, officials said.

Seattle City Light submitted the revised study plan on Wednesday to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the Skagit Valley Herald reported. The current license, issued in 1995, expires in April 2025.

Seattle City Light requested a pre-application document and proposed 24 studies for the relicensing last year. The utility revised the plan in December to include 28 studies.

Now the utility has increased the number of studies to 33, including impacts to endangered orcas and threatened Skagit River chinook salmon and steelhead trout. The utility also doubled its financial commitment to at least $20 million to the project.

“This is incredibly important work,” Seattle City Light CEO Debra Smith said. “It’s important to the people who live on the Skagit River, it’s really important to the city and people here that benefit from the power provided by the dams … and it’s really important to the way of life of the tribes.”

Smith and Chris Townsend, Seattle Light’s director of natural resources and hydro licensing, said the plan expands the fish passage and habitat studies and proposes establishing a fund to support salmon recovery in northwestern Washington.

The plan will also immediately restore water between Gorge Dam and Gorge Powerhouse in what is called a bypass reach, the Seattle Light officials said. The utility will then continue releasing water into the 3-mile reach.

“We intend to keep water in it moving forward under the new license,” Townsend said, noting that the utility heard from the tribe that the dewatering of the bypass was damaging to the tribe.

Tribal members and stakeholders have until May 6 to comment on revised study plan. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will review the plan and issue a study plan determination by May 21.

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