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Idaho Power plan up for review
By JAYSON JACOBY
Of the Baker City Herald
Idaho Power Company intends to spend about $1 million over the next several years to improve parks and boat launches on the Baker County shore of Brownlee Reservoir.
But the company has not offered to help maintain the county's gravel road between Richland and Huntington, a $400,000-per-year cost that county officials believe Idaho Power should share.
This difference between what Baker County believes it's entitled to, and what Idaho Power is willing to offer, predates the company's license application.
The proposed park improvements are included in Idaho Power's 25,000-page application for a new federal license for its three hydroelectric dams on the Snake River east of Baker City.
Impounded behind those dams are the waters of the three reservoirs Brownlee, Oxbow and Hells Canyon that form the boundary between Oregon and Idaho.
Idaho Power's current 50-year license for the three-dam complex expires in July 2005.
The company has been working for several years to prepare its application for the new license it is seeking from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).
The three dams are vitally important for Idaho Power they produce 40 percent of the company's total supply, and two-thirds of its hydroelectric capacity.
Idaho Power's progress on the application has attracted considerable attention in Baker County, whose economy benefits from visitors who flock to the company's reservoirs to fish, swim and water ski.
But those same recreationists also add to the county's costs and in particular the maintenance bill for the Snake River Road between Huntington and Richland, County Commissioner Howard Britton said.
Because the county's economy and budget are so closely tied to Idaho Power's operations, the County Commission, along with the cities of Richland, Huntington and Halfway, and the non-profit Friends of Brownlee, have watched intently as Idaho Power prepared its application.
About two years ago Idaho Power presented the county commissioners with a "pre-relicensing offer," said Dennis Lopez, a company spokesman.
Idaho Power offered to spend $178,000 to improve the county-owned Hewitt and Holcomb parks just east of Richland, and to help pay for a new boat ramp near Swede's Landing, along the Snake River Road south of Richland.
Commissioners rejected that offer.
Earlier this year, Commission Chairman Brian Cole called Idaho Power's offer "insulting."
He believes Idaho Power has neglected Baker County since the company received its current license almost half a century ago.
For example, Cole points out that three of Idaho Power's four campgrounds are in Idaho.
He also notes that the company maintains paved roads on the shores of both Hells Canyon and Oxbow reservoirs, but does not help Baker County maintain the Snake River Road.
Cole said he was leery of signing Idaho Power's initial offer because it would have required the county, at the company's request, to "engage in reasonable activities that are aimed at ensuring the citizens of Baker County continue to understand and genuinely support IPC's efforts in Baker County and support IPC's application to relicense the Hells Canyon Complex."
Now that application is finished, and it includes all of the projects proposed in the original $178,000 offer and more.
The Snake River Road
But conspicuously absent is any contribution from the company toward maintaining or improving the Snake River Road a key part of Baker County's claim that Idaho Power has focused on roads and parks in Idaho to the detriment of the Oregon shore.
"We didn't feel that maintenance of the Snake River Road was reasonable," said David Moore, an Idaho Power recreation planner.
Lopez pointed out that Idaho Power does contribute to Baker County roads, at least indirectly, by paying property taxes to the county.
That's true, Britton acknowledged. Idaho Power pays about $700,000 per year in property taxes, more than any other company.
But what's equally true, he said, is that the Snake River Road was rarely traveled, and thus required relatively little maintenance, before Idaho Power built Brownlee Dam.
Since the dam was built in the late 1950s, hordes of anglers and boaters have traveled to Brownlee, and many of them drive the county road between Huntington and Richland, Britton said.
"Before that it wasn't used 100th as much as it is now," Britton said.
Another factor is erosion.
Britton, who toured the reservoir recently with Federal Energy Regulatory Commission officials, said lack of maintenance on the road has caused runoff to dump dirt into the reservoir, which already fails to meet federal water quality standards.
He believes Idaho Power "is going to have to address that" matter before it obtains a new license.
In addition to seeking Idaho Power's help in maintaining the road, Baker County officials also have sought dollars for parks.
In its application, Idaho Power proposes to do the following:
o Work with Baker County, the Bureau of Land Management and the Oregon State Marine Board to build a boat launch at Swede's Landing, on the Snake River Road north of Richland.
Idaho Power is proposing to spend up to $250,000 within three years of receiving a new license.
There is no boat ramp at Swede's Landing now. The new ramp would be accessible when Brownlee Reservoir is very low, a time when many ramps can not be used.
The company also plans to spend up to $75,000 to create campsites at Swede's Landing and to install picnic tables and fire rings.
o Spend $500,000 over four years to improve Spring Recreation Site, on the Snake River Road north of Huntington.
The Bureau of Land Management operates the park.
Idaho Power proposes to help rebuild the boat ramp, add new campsites, provide potable water, build new toilets and improve boat moorage, parking for trailers and upgrade the fish-cleaning station.
o Spend up to $100,000 to improve Hewitt and Holcomb parks just east of Richland.
Baker County owns and operates both parks, which are on the Powder River arm of Brownlee.
Idaho Power is proposing to help the county landscape the parks and add toilets, build a fish-cleaning station and widen the road between the two parks.
The company also suggests building campsites for recreational vehicles at Holcomb Park, complete with electricity and water hookups, as well as a toilet and picnic shelter.
Work would start within a year of Idaho Power receiving a new license.
o Spend $100,000 to improve Copperfield Park at Oxbow.
Copperfield is the only one of Idaho Power's four parks that is in Oregon.
The company wants to improve the boat launch a mile downstream from the park, and to add picnic tables and a vault toilet at the park itself.
Idaho Power's proposed investment in Copperfield is considerably smaller than for its McCormick and Hells Canyon parks because the company already has upgraded Copperfield in the past several years, Moore said.
The company did the same at Woodhead Park, but it has not invested nearly as much in McCormick and Hells Canyon, he said.
Idaho Power is proposing to spend $2 million to rebuild Hells Canyon Park, and $3 million for McCormick.
Lopez said it's difficult to say whether Idaho Power's application would have changed had Baker County accepted the company's $178,000 offer.
But he said it's possible that had Baker County done so, some of the park projects listed in the application would already be under way, and thus not included in the application.
Idaho Power might have replaced those projects with others, Lopez said.
To save paper, Idaho Power's application is on CD-ROMs. A set of the four discs is available at the Baker County Library, 2400 Resort St.