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Consultant will chart Baker County's response to proposal
By MIKE FERGUSON
Of the Baker City Herald
A consultant with a background in finance and experience working with utilities has been named to coordinate Baker County's dam relicensing strategy.
Stephen J. Brocato believes his status as a newcomer he's lived in Baker City and operated a Halfway ranch for about two years after nearly a decade working in the United Kingdom will be an asset as he seeks to bring a variety of recreation, transportation, city and county interests together quickly. The comment deadline for Idaho Power's draft application for relicensing of its three dams along the Snake River is Dec. 20.
"This is a very emotional issue, but I don't carry a lot of that political baggage into the battle," he said. "And I'm not going to spend time finding out what that baggage is. We need to forget about politics and move forward.
"I'm coming in with a clean slate. I'm not an expert on this issue, and I don't pretend to be. My job is to bring everyone in on relicensing together. You can't make everyone happy, but you can at least find out everybody's wish list."
Brocato, 50, was selected for the job by the Baker County Hells Canyon Complex Dam Re-licensing Advisory Committee. He will work under contract for Baker County Unlimited, which will pay him out of a $35,000 grant from the Baker-Morrow Partnership.
Working as an hourly consultant, he will be paid $51 per hour and no more than $6,800 per month, said County Commissioner Howard Britton, chair of the advisory committee.
"He seems to fit the bill," Britton said. Hiring Brocato "will give us a pretty good lever. (Idaho Power) needs to know we're serious, and we're under a horrible time constraint."
Brocato has a long list of activities he's expected to accomplish in the next two months, including coordinating a strategy with the Friends of Brownlee; consulting directly with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission; writing press releases; meeting with Idaho Power re-licensing personnel, state and federal agencies as well as the Baker County board of commissioners; and updating communities through the Mayors' Council.
According to the document the committee circulated to hire its strategy coordinator, Baker County's top three priorities are:
o a stable and full Brownlee Reservoir, especially during the recreation and fish spawning seasons;
o enough money to maintain and improve the Snake River Road between Huntington and Richland;
o and improvements to Hewitt and Holcomb parks to the standards set by Idaho Power and its parks system.
Brocato said it will be his job to help convince Idaho Power that "what's good for us is also good for you."
Should the company agree to pay for the road improvement the county seeks, "you'd see Idaho Power signs along the road, saying, This Road Maintained by Idaho Power.' We'd certainly give them credit for what they help us with."
Britton said he was optimistic that Brocato will "get everyone working on the same page and help us discover what we all want out of the project."
"One of the (Federal Energy Regulation Commission) people told me that the most important thing for us to do is agree on what we want," Britton said. "Getting people informed will be the other main thrust of his."
There may be other interests as well, Britton said, and it will be up to Brocato to identify them and include them in the county's response to the draft application.
Interest in the Idaho Power document is not limited to Baker County, of course.
Britton said a recent conversation with a Wallowa County Commissioner Ben Boswell indicated that county's emergency responders would like Idaho Power to help upgrade communications equipment they use in the canyon area.
The rest of the $35,000 grant will probably be used for legal research, Britton said. Last week, the board of commissioners agreed to authorize the filing of a Motion to Intervene next July, when Idaho Power's final document is due.
The motion, County Counsel Sarah Hildebrand said, is a legal manuever that "tells FERC we're interested and here's why. It also puts them on notice we want to be a party to the proceedings."
Britton said the county is still in discussion with a Boise attorney who has experience with relicensing cases.