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Comment Period Extended For Feds’ Scoping On New EIS For Columbia/Snake River Hydro System
Posted on Friday, January 06, 2017 (PST)

After recording comments at 15 public scoping meetings, three federal agencies operating Columbia and Snake river dams are giving the public an additional three weeks to comment on the court-ordered Columbia River System Operations environmental impact statement for salmon and steelhead.

 

The comment period for what the public thinks should be analyzed as the agencies consider the next EIS on 14 dams was originally scheduled to end January 17 and has now been extended to February 7, according to a CRSO news release December 23 (http://www.crso.info/Library/NR_FINAL_CRSO_ScopingExtended_12_23_16.pdf). The Federal Register notice is at http://www.crso.info/Library/1-3-2017%20Cmt%20Ext%20Columbia%20River%2082%20FR%20137.pdf

 

In addition, the final public EIS meeting (the first meeting was October 24), which was to be held in Astoria, Oregon December 15, but was canceled due to inclement weather, is now scheduled for next week, January 9, 4 pm to 7 pm at The Loft at the Red Building.

 

The Astoria meeting is the last of 16 public scoping meetings for the CRSO environmental review. Two webinars have also been held for those who could not attend one of the 16 public sessions scheduled across the Columbia River basin.

 

“Scoping comments from the public are a vital part of the EIS process,” said U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Northwestern Division Commander Major General Scott A. Spellmon. “We want to be sure the public has a chance to weigh in on the alternatives and impacts to be studied.”

 

Comments collected during the scoping meetings, either in person, online or by mail will help inform a range of alternatives and impacts to resources for evaluation in the EIS. The agencies say they are committed to considering “all regional perspectives and to running an open and transparent public process.”

 

To that end, the action agencies will continue “to provide opportunities for meaningful engagement and dialogue with the region” after the scoping comment period closes, the agencies said in the news release.

 

Some 36 environmental organizations demanded in a November 11 letter that the format used by the agencies be redesigned immediately to allow oral comment and to “revise incomplete and misleading information presented at the meetings, schedule additional meetings in important stakeholder communities in northern California and Alaska, and extend the public comment period by at least 60 days.” The full letter is at http://earthjustice.org/sites/default/files/files/NEPA%20Scoping%20Failure%20Ltr%20FINAL.pdf

 

At a Northwest Power and Conservation Council meeting December 13 in Portland, David Kennedy, manager of the Bonneville Power Administration’s compliance division, said of the environmental groups’ demands that it was likely the three agencies would extend the deadline, but defended the National Environmental Policy Act process, which allows public information meetings as an approved and useful process when presenting complicated information.

 

Kennedy said there was just too much information to convey and that would have meant two to three hour presentations that nobody would have wanted. Under NEPA, he said, there are a number of formats allowed for the scoping process.

 

“It’s a large, complicated system and so there was a lot to explain,” he said. “Besides, there will be other comment periods. We certainly don’t intend to go dark.”

 

As of the December Council meeting, the agencies had received 40,000 to 50,000 public comments and more than 2,000 people had attended the scoping meetings. In addition to the 15 scoping meetings held to date, the agencies had also met some 20 times with Tribal governments.

 

The 5-year long process under NEPA to produce an EIS was put into motion by U.S. District Court Judge Michael H. Simon in May 2016 when he remanded the latest 2014 NOAA Fisheries’ biological opinion governing river operations to protect salmon and steelhead throughout the Columbia River basin.

 

Simon gave the operating agencies five years to complete the NEPA process, although the judge expects a new BiOp from the operating agencies and NOAA in 2018, and potentially another BiOp when the NEPA process is complete in 2021.

 

In his remand, Simon placed back on the table breaching of the four lower Snake River dams and that has been among the many comments received at each of the scoping meetings, according to Kennedy.

 

Over the five year period, the three agencies – the Corps, BPA and the Bureau of Reclamation -- will evaluate alternatives and tradeoffs, including climate change and dam breaching, as well as effects on resources, such as species listed under the federal Endangered Species Act, cultural resources and economics.

 

A status report on the NEPA process from the agencies is due to the Court October 30, 2017 and a status conference is set one month later, November 30. The draft EIS is to be completed and ready for public review in March 2020, with the final EIS in March 2021, followed closely by a record of decision.

 

The agencies are at step two of a long 10-step $40 million process that began in September with a letter of intent (https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2016/09/30/2016-23346/notice-of-intent-to-prepare-the-columbia-river-system-operations-environmental-impact-statement). The step-by-step process is scoping, developing alternatives for evaluation, analysis of the alternatives, a draft EIS (2020), public comment, review and synthesis of the draft EIS, preparing a final EIS with preferred alternative, a final EIS and an ROD.

 

That next step – developing alternatives for evaluation – begins with the agencies processing the information gathered during the scoping process, developing alternatives for the EIS assessments and the metrics by which they will be evaluated.

 

More information about the “Columbia River System Operations EIS” is at www.crso.info. Questions, but not comments, can be done by phone to 1-800-290-5033.

 

Send comments to comment@crso.info, or mail to Army Corps of Engineers, Attn: CRSO EIS, P.O. Box 2870, Portland, Oregon 97208-2870. The agencies remind commenters to remember that their entire comment, including name, address and email will become a part of the public record.

 

Also see:

 

--CBB, December 16, 2016, “Scoping Meetings On Basin Salmon/Steelhead EIS End; Next Step Developing Alternatives For Evaluation,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/438097.aspx.

 

--CBB, December 2, 2016, “Irrigators Petition Trump Transition Team For ‘God Squad’ Intervention In Salmon BiOp Remand,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/438042.aspx.

 

--CBB, November 18, 2016, “Hundreds Turn Out For Lewiston Federal Scoping Meeting Regarding Draft EIS For Snake River Dams,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/437988.aspx.

 

-- CBB, Oct. 7, 2016, “Agencies Seek Public ‘Scoping’ Comments For EIS Related To New Basin Salmon/Steelhead Recovery Plan,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/437702.aspx.

 

-- 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.

 

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