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Agencies Seek Public ‘Scoping’ Comments For EIS Related To New Basin Salmon/Steelhead Recovery Plan
Posted on Friday, October 07, 2016 (PST)

The three agencies that operate 14 federal dams in the Columbia River Basin are seeking comments on the scope of what they should consider when preparing an environmental impact statement of the Federal Columbia River Power System.

 

The agencies – U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Bureau of Reclamation and the Bonneville Power Administration – are requesting the public’s assistance to define the issues and the scope of alternatives as it prepares the EIS that will inform the next NOAA Fisheries biological opinion for salmon and steelhead, slated for 2018.

 

The Scoping Letter is at http://www.crso.info/Library/20160929-NR-NOI.pdf.

The Columbia River Systems Operations website is at http://www.crso.info/.

 

The EIS under a National Environmental Policy Act process, however, may take longer and not be entirely ready for the 2018 BiOp deadline. On July 6, U.S. District Court Judge Michael H. Simon, ruled that the agencies could take up to five years to complete the process.

 

Simon, who is presiding over the rewriting of the recovery plan for thirteen species of Columbia River salmon and steelhead, after he rejected the previous BiOp, says a thorough NEPA review is more important than the shortened remand schedule proposed by the litigation’s plaintiffs (the National Wildlife Federation was the lead plaintiff in the suit). This was the fifth time a FCRPS BiOp has been rejected by a U.S. District Court judge.

 

He also approved a time extension on when the next Federal Columbia River Power System biological opinion for salmon and steelhead is final, from March 31, 2018 to December 31, 2018, an extension the federal defendants had requested.

 

See CBB, July 15, 2016, “Judge Gives Feds Nearly Five Years To Complete NEPA Process For New Basin Salmon/Steelhead Recovery,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/437139.aspx

 

Simon had rejected May 4 much of NOAA Fisheries’ 2014 biological opinion for salmon and steelhead impacted by the FCRPS. In his opinion, he said the rejected BiOp “continues down the same well-worn and legally insufficient path” followed by previous recovery plans over the past 20 years.

 

--CBB, May 6, 2016, “Federal Court Again Rejects Columbia Basin Salmon/Steelhead Recovery Plan; Orders New BiOp By 2018,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/436667.aspx

 

Among the issues, Simon held that the federal agencies had failed by not complying with NEPA and preparing environmental impact statements that would support the 2014 BiOp and its RPAs. If that had been done, according to the judge’s BiOp decision, the EIS may have allowed, even encouraged, “new and innovative solutions to be developed and discussed. The federal agencies, the public, and our public officials will then be in a better position to evaluate the costs and benefits of various alternatives and to make important decisions.”

 

Simon said that the current BiOp’s standard of “trending toward recovery” is insufficient to ensure recovery, that habitat improvement benefits are uncertain, that NOAA Fisheries’ assessment of climate change impacts on recovery do not use the best available science, and that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation must comply with NEPA and assess all RPA’s, including one that federal agencies seem to be avoiding, breaching lower Snake River dams.

 

The agencies said that the EIS will evaluate and update their approach for long-term system operations and configuration through the analysis of different alternatives to current operations and maintenance; including changes to flood risk management, navigation, hydropower, irrigation, fish and wildlife conservation, recreation and municipal and industrial water supply.

 

They will also analyze potential effects on species, including those listed under the federal Endangered Species Act, cultural resources, tribal resources, and other social and natural resources. The EIS will be used to select a preferred alternative, which will be adopted by the agencies in order to operate and maintain the Columbia River System, the agencies said.

 

Of the 14 federal dams, Congress authorized the Corps to construct, operate, and maintain 12 of the projects for flood risk management, navigation, power generation, fish and wildlife conservation, recreation, and municipal and industrial water supply purposes. Those dams are Libby, Albeni Falls, Dworshak, Chief Joseph, Lower Granite, Little Goose, Lower Monumental, Ice Harbor, McNary, John Day, The Dalles, and Bonneville.

 

Congress authorized Reclamation to construct, operate, and maintain two of the projects – Hungry Horse and Grand Coulee.

 

BPA is responsible for marketing and transmitting the power generated by these dams. Together, the agencies are responsible for managing the system for all of the various purposes.

 

During the preparation of the EIS, the agencies said they will be identifying potential alternatives that best meet their responsibilities for providing for authorized purposes while minimizing or eliminating environmental impacts and meeting all federal statutory and regulatory requirements. They plan to identify a preferred alternative in the draft EIS, but will also identify a range of alternatives, including a no-action alternative, which is the current system operations and configuration.

 

Other alternatives will be developed through the scoping period based on public input and the agencies’ expertise.

 

They will likely include an array of alternatives for different system operations and additional structural modifications to existing projects to improve fish passage, including breaching one or more dams, the agencies said.

 

The EIS will also identify measures to avoid, offset, or minimize impacts to resources affected by system operations and configuration, where feasible. For instance, the agencies said, non-operational mitigation measures to address impacts to the fish resources, such as habitat actions in the tributaries and estuary, avian predation management actions, and conservation and safety net hatcheries, may be proposed.

 

Simon, in his July order allowing the agencies more time to complete their NEPA processes, ordered a final remand schedule that includes:

 

-- Federal Defendants shall complete scoping under NEPA on or before September 30, 2017;

 

-- Federal Defendants shall file a status report with the Court on or before October 30, 2017;

 

-- A status conference is set for November 30, 2017, at 10AM.

 

--NOAA Fisheries’ further consultation under Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act, correcting the deficiencies identified in the Court’s Opinion and Order of May 4, 2016, shall be completed on or before December 31, 2018;

 

--The draft EIS shall be completed on or before March 27, 2020;

 

--The final EIS shall be completed on or before March 26, 2021; and

 

--The Records of Decision shall be issued on or before September 24, 2021

 

The federal agencies’ scoping period began September 30 and all comments are due by January 17, 2017.

 

The agencies welcome comments, suggestions and information that may inform the scope of issues, potential effects, and range of alternatives that should be evaluated in the EIS. Letters of Comment or inquiry can be submitted to comment@crso.info, or addressed to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Northwestern Division, Attn: CRSO EIS, P.O. Box 2870, Portland, Ore. 97208-2870.

 

Comments may also be submitted at public scoping meetings to be conducted by the agencies as follows:

 

Week of October 24th

-- Monday, October 24, 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., Wenatchee Community Center, 504 S. Chelan Ave., Wenatchee, WA.

-- Tuesday, October 25, 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., The Town of Coulee Dam, City Hall, 300 Lincoln Ave., Coulee Dam, WA.

--Wednesday, October 26, 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., Priest River Community Center, 5399 Hwy 2, Priest River, ID.

-- Thursday, October 27, 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., Kootenai River Inn Casino & Spa, 7169 Plaza St., Bonners Ferry, ID.

 

Week of October 30th

-- Tuesday, November 1, 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., Red Lion Hotel Kalispell, 20 North Main St., Kalispell, MT.

-- Wednesday, November 2, 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., City of Libby City Hall, 952 E. Spruce St., Libby, MT.

-- Thursday, November 3, 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., Hilton Garden Inn Missoula, 3720 N. Reserve St., Missoula, MT.

 

Week of November 14th

-- Monday, November 14, 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., The Historic Davenport Hotel, 10 South Post St., Spokane, WA.

-- Wednesday, November 16, 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., Red Lion Hotel Lewiston, Seaport Room, 621 21st St., Lewiston, ID.

-- Thursday, November 17, 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., Courtyard Walla Walla, The Blues Room, 550 West Rose St., Walla Walla, WA.

Week of November 28th

-- Tuesday, November 29, 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., The Grove Hotel, 245 S. Capital Blvd., Boise, ID.

-- Thursday, December 1, 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., Town Hall, Great Room, 1119 8th Ave., Seattle, WA.

 

Week of December 5th

-- Tuesday, December 6, 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., The Columbia Gorge Discovery Center, River Gallery Room, 5000 Discovery Drive, The Dalles, OR.

-- Wednesday, December 7, 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., Oregon Convention Center, 777 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Portland, OR.

-- Thursday, December 8, 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., The Loft at the Red Building, 20 Basin St., Astoria, OR.

 

Week of December 12th

-- Tuesday, December 13, 2016, 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., and 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., PST, webinar.

 

For those that cannot participate in person, an online webinar will be provided to interested parties. The webinar will cover the material discussed in the in-person public scoping meetings. Detailed instructions on how to participate in the webinar may be found on the project website at www.crso.info.

 

All comments need to be submitted by January 17, 2017. For additional information, contact www.crso.info or call: 1-800-290-5033.

 

For background, see:

 

--CBB, June 17, 2016, “Court Says Two Years For New Basin Salmon Recovery Plan, NEPA; Feds Say Will Take Five Years,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/436944.aspx

 

--CBB, May 20, 2016, “BiOp Judge Approves Extension For Feds In Delivering A Plan For Responding To Court Directives,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/436764.aspx

 

-- CBB, August 28, 2015, “BiOp Litigants Respond To Judge’s Questions, Now Await Ruling On Summary Judgement Motions,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/434825.aspx

 

-- CBB, June 26, 2015, “Attorneys Present Pros/Cons Of Columbia/Snake Salmon BiOp At Federal Court Oral Argument Hearing,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/434343.aspx

 

-- CBB, October 3, 2015, “State Of Oregon Again Joins Plaintiffs In Challenging Feds’ Columbia Basin Salmon/Steelhead Plan,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/432296.aspx

 

-- CBB, June 20, 2014, “Groups File Challenge Against New Federal Columbia Basin Salmon/Steelhead Recovery Plan,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/431171.aspx

 

-- CBB, May 30, 2014, “Groups Challenge In Ninth Circuit BPA’s Record Of Decision Accepting Feds’ New Hydro/Salmon Plan,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/430946.aspx

 

-- CBB, April 4, 2014, “Fishing/Conservation Groups File Sue Notice On Challenging Salmon BiOp In Ninth Circuit,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/430255.aspx

 

-- CBB, Jan. 17, 2014, “NOAA Fisheries Issues New Salmon/Steelhead Biological Opinion For Columbia/Snake River Power System,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/429522.aspx

 

-- CBB, Sept. 13, 2013, “NOAA Fisheries Releases Draft 2013 Salmon/Steelhead BiOp, Says 2008 Biological Analysis ‘Still Valid,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/428331.aspx

 

-- CBB, Aug. 23, 2013, “Federal Agencies Release Draft Plan Detailing 2014-2018 Actions To Meet BiOp Salmon Survival Targets,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/428028.aspx

 

-- CBB, Aug. 5, 2011, “Redden Orders New Salmon BiOp By 2014; Says Post-2013 Mitigation, Benefits Unidentified,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/411336.aspx

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