Bear River dam builder denied federal permit

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued a draft environmental study Sept. 30 suggesting denial of a proposal to build a 109-foot-tall dam that would inundate Oneida Narrows. Photo by Kevin Lewis.

Citing a host of environmental concerns raised by IRU and its allies, the federal government yesterday recommended denial of an application seeking to build a 109-foot-tall hydroelectric dam on the Bear River in southeast Idaho.

In its draft environmental study the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s Office of Energy Projects (FERC) recommended denial of the Bear River Narrows Hydroelectric Project specifically because it would inflict a host of environmental damages.

“Since 2002 IRU and our allies have fought to protect a unique resource that’s prized for its recreational values,” said IRU Conservation Director Kevin Lewis. “To date millions of dollars have been spent restoring portions of the Bear River, and this dam would have destroyed one of the river’s last free-flowing stretches.”

Moreover, yesterday’s news follows a 2012 decision by the Idaho Department of Water Resources to deny a water right that would be needed to construct the new dam. Despite losing its request for a water right, which effectively blocked the dam proposal, the Twin Lakes Canal Co. applied in November 2013 to FERC for a necessary federal license to build the project anyway.

The draft FERC environmental impact statement recommends denial of the dam for the following reasons, all of which were raised by IRU and its allies:

•    The dam would inundate a 4.5-mile reach of the Bear River that is suitable for Wild and Scenic river protections, according to the Bureau of Land Management.
•    It would have destroyed critical habitat for the imperiled Boneville cutthroat trout.
•    Up to 48 additional sensitive species would be significantly and negatively impacted.
•    Conservation land designated by PacifiCorp in a critical 2002 settlement about Bear River operations would be lost.
•    Fifty-five acres of land inventoried by the Bureau of Land Management as Research Natural Area or Areas of Critical Environmental Concern would be lost.
•    The overall aesthetics of the Oneida Narrows area would be negatively impacted by a hyrdo project.

This week’s win for the Bear River is the result of work by numerous people and organizations including IRU, Rocky Mountain Power, Trout Unlimited, Greater Yellowstone Coalition, Franklin County Fish and Game Association and many concerned local residents.

To read FERC’s draft decision, follow this link.