Jayson Jacoby
The Baker City Herald

By Terri Harber


Baker County commissioners on Wednesday approved a contract for help with documentation required before building a hydroelectric power plant at Mason Dam.

EcoWest Consulting Inc., based in Baker City, already has done some work for the county related to the project.

The county intends to build a 3.4-megawatt system at the dam, which blocks the Powder River to form Phillips Reservoir, about 15 miles southwest of Baker City.

The energy produced would be sold to Idaho Power, which has a 138-kilovolt transmission line that runs close to the project site, said Jason Yencopal, community development director and the county staff member overseeing this project.

It would be a conventional system with a turbine, generator and other necessary items. The power would be transferred to the Idaho Power line by a 12.7-kilovolt connector nearly a mile long.

This contract recognizes that work done by EcoWest could exceed $5,000. The company will help complete the draft final biological assessment and final license application needed for project approval.

It qualifies as a sole source provider to the county because of previous and specialized knowledge as well as an ability to respond quickly and in a cost-effective way. This is why a competitive bid process was unnecessary, according to the staff report.

The county submitted its draft license application and draft final biological assessment to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on April 30.

Also sent out recently to the Water Resources Department was a non-consumptive use water right application.

The next paperwork to be submitted is a 401 Water Quality Application to the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.

The project site contains critical habitat for bull trout, a threatened species.

Planning for this project has been going on for several years and finally reaching this point "is a great thing," Yencopal said.

The county should know by July 2014 whether the project is viable, he said.

In other business, the commissioners:

andbull; Provided new Commissioner Mark Bennett with his committee assignments. These are mostly duties handled by his predecessor, Carl Stiff: Budget Board; Local Public Safety Coordinating Council; Northeast Oregon Economic Development District; and, Northeast Oregon Housing Authority. Bennett also will be the commission's liaison to the Baker Fair Board and Mental Health and Developmental Disability Advisory Committee

andbull;Accepted the award of a Wolf Depredation Compensation Grant from the Oregon Department of Agriculture. The county will receive $1,895. There is $1,400 for a cow killed by a wolves near Halfway this past September, and the rest, $495, is for a county wolf program.

andbull; Approved purchase of a used grader from the Oregon Department of Transportation. The 1991 John Deere includes a dozer bucket with blade and wing plow and costs $22,500.

andbull; Named Linda Wicker and Chris Dunn, a finalist for replacing Carl Stiff as a commissioner, to the county Planning Commission.

andbull; Reappointed Fred Phillips, Clair Pickard, Marion Crow and Mac Kerns to the Water and Stream Health Committee.