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Following Presidential Directive, Feds Shorten Columbia/Snake Hydrosystem EIS Schedule By One Year
Posted on Friday, January 11, 2019 (PST)

Following the orders of an October Presidential memorandum, federal agencies charged with producing an environmental impact statement analyzing the impacts of 14 federal Columbia/Snake river dams on salmon and steelhead released a schedule this week that shortens the time they will take to complete the EIS by one year.

 

President Donald J. Trump’s October 19, 2018 memorandum directed federal agencies to reduce regulations at West Coast dams, including water projects in California, the Klamath River and federal dams in the Columbia River basin.

 

One directive included in the memo is to move up by one year the completion of an EIS and biological opinion for salmon and steelhead listed under the Endangered Species Act that traverse the federal Columbia River power system’s Columbia and Snake river dams.

 

In his May 2016 remand of the 2014 FCRPS BiOp, U.S. District Court Judge Michael H. Simon directed NOAA Fisheries, the Bonneville Power Administration, the Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to complete the EIS and BiOp with a Record of Decision by September 2021. That five-year National Environmental Policy Act process was requested at the time by the federal agencies. The Trump memo moves up the finish date for the EIS/BiOp to 2020.

 

Originally, the agencies based the need for five years on co-lead agencies’ experiences with similarly complex NEPA processes, according to Matt Rabe, spokesperson with the U.S. Corps of Engineers’ Northwestern Division. At the time, the agencies considered five years to be the time needed to complete their “comprehensive evaluation of a broad range of alternatives, analyze impacts to affected resources in the Columbia River Basin and provide sufficient public involvement opportunities.”

 

“We have the discretion under the court order and within our expertise on the Columbia River System, and with NEPA, to alter the schedule, as appropriate,” he added.

 

The agencies published the revised EIS schedule Wednesday, Jan. 9.

 

According to the new schedule, the agencies will sign the Records of Decisions by the end of September 2020, one year earlier than previous scheduled.

 

“We remain committed to identifying a long-term strategy for the operation, maintenance and configuration of the 14 projects in the Columbia River System that best balances their multiple purposes,” the Corps said in a statement. “The contributions from tribes, the public and federal and state agencies across the region will continue to inform our decisions as we reach our new completion date.”

 

The Presidential memo (Promoting the Reliable Supply and Delivery of Water in the West), directs the secretaries of Commerce and Interior to “address water infrastructure challenges in the western United States.”

 

“Decades of uncoordinated, piecemeal regulatory actions have diminished the ability of our Federal infrastructure … to deliver water and power in an efficient, cost effective way,” the memo says.

 

The Presidential memorandum (https://www.whitehouse.gov/presidential-actions/presidential-memorandum-promoting-reliable-supply-delivery-water-west/) gave the secretaries of the Interior, Commerce, Energy and the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works under the direction of the Secretary of the Army, to develop a schedule to complete the FCRPS BiOp by 2020, some 60 days to submit a new schedule.

 

The EIS Process Schedule up to this point began September 2016 with a notice of intent, which was followed by scoping the extent and content of the EIS from September through February 2017. The agencies developed alternatives through December 2018 and are currently analyzing the alternatives.

 

From this point the EIS schedule compression is mostly focused on the time period between the completion of the draft EIS and signing the Records of Decision, Rabe said. Changes, he continued, include

• streamlining co-lead agency decision-making,

• streamlining coordination among federal and state agencies and tribes, and

• streamlining analysis of mitigation measures and modeling.

 

The streamlined schedule (www.crso.info):

-- a draft EIS will be ready for review in February 2020 (the original schedule called for the completion of a draft March 27, 2020;

-- by June 2020, the public comment review and synthesis, preparation of the final EIS and identification of the preferred alternative will be complete;

-- June 2020, issue final EIS (the original schedule called for a final EIS by March 26, 2021);

-- September 30, 2020, the final Records of Decision (previously, that was scheduled one year later, Sept. 24, 2021).

 

Between now and the Final EIS, the agencies will consult with NOAA Fisheries and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in an Endangered Species Act Section 7 consultation.

 

“We are confident that progress will continue toward the identification of a long-term strategy for the operation, configuration and maintenance of the Columbia River System that:

• complies with all applicable laws, including NEPA and the Endangered Species Act,

• meets the revised schedule, and

• considers input obtained during the public scoping period and from the project’s Cooperating Agencies based on their special expertise and jurisdiction by law.”

 

The agencies’ revised EIS schedule is at https://media.defense.gov/2019/Jan/09/2002077981/-1/-1/0/190109-A-A1408-001.PNG

 

Also see:

 

-- CBB, October 26, 2018, “Administration Memo Cuts Basin Salmon BiOp Schedule By One Year, Trims Regs For Water Projects,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/441725.aspx

 

--CBB, June 1, 2018, “NOAA Says It Must Complete New Salmon/Steelhead BiOp In 2018 To Ensure ESA Compliance,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/440848.aspx

 

--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

 

--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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