FERC regulators take tour of plant

SPEARFISH, SOUTH DAKOTA - Officials with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission were in Spearfish to tour the hydroelectric plant and related infrastructure in Spearfish Canyon, namely, Maurice Intake and Split Rock as well as other sites. It's all part of the process for licensing the hydroelectric plant, something which the FERC agency oversees.

The visitors got a first-hand look at Spearfish Creek and what is happening now with the system as well as what could happen if licensing with conditions is approved.

“This is the site visit that goes along with the scoping process that FERC requires, mainly different structures that are involved in the project boundary. The officials will start taking comments from interested groups and agencies at two separate meetings,” Public Works Director Cheryl Johnson said.

The tour started at the Spearfish Hydroelectric Plant and the group traveled to the Maurice Intake, where project coordinator Steve Hocking, an environmental protection specialist with FERC, had a glimpse at the system and streamflows.

“This is one of the major steps that we have. We have a site visit and then two scoping meetings scheduled. The whole process from start to finish is about five years. The application has been filed and most of the studies have been completed. The question in front of the commission is whether any additional studies will be needed. We'll ask those questions at the public meetings,” Hocking said.

The studies have involved a lot of different state and federal agencies that have a stake in what happens with Spearfish Creek, as well as individuals and groups who want to protect the cold water fishery for future generations. Jerry Boyer with the Spearfish Canyon Society is pleased a lot of thought has gone into this process.

“I'm pleased with the FERC process. It's brought competing parties together over a long length of time to derive a consensus, win-win if you will, and we at the Society have strived for a balance of ecology and economy within this ecosystem,” he said.

Boyer is glad there is a proposal to have about 6 cubic feet per second of water in the creek that will add about four and a half miles of new fisheries along the scenic byway.

The reason for the whole process is so the city of Spearfish can operate the hydroelectric plant once owned by Homestake Mining Company, which was built in 1910. The city bought it in 2004 for $250,000.

The city was hopeful it could operate without needing a license, since the plant was built before the existence of energy regulatory agencies. But the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission insisted it had the right to regulate the plant.

The city took a stab at having Congress license the plant, but that died in committee. So the city took a different approach and applied for a license using the traditional licensing method. Even with the length of time needed for this, Spearfish Mayor Jerry Krambeck is happy with the way things are going.

“The roadmap we started on is right on schedule. There hasn't been too many surprises and a lot of interesting things have popped up in the middle of the road, but there haven't been any surprises. We're kind of where we need to be at,” Krambeck said.

Hocking said any indication of a decision is still a ways off. “We have to do an environmental analysis and take a look at the application and studies and all the information and comments. Then our environmental analysis is where we'll make our recommendations for what should be done. We're just not there yet,” he said.

While one may begin to think the parameters regarding the hydroelectric plant have been studied to death, Johnson said such an approach is crucial to the city's plan.

“Studies are valuable from all standpoints. The main focus has been on the Delphi study, but there were other studies that were completed as part of this licensing process. The Delphi study received the most attention because it was the most requested and the most commented on because it deals directly with the fisheries,” she said.

She added while a lot of comments were received, some were from groups or individuals who had a lot to say about the process.

Krambeck feels all of this will result in a license being granted for the hydroelectric plant.

“I feel very confident that the license will be granted. It may come with some conditions on it but we expect that also,” he said.

The cost to the city for this license is between $750,000 and $900,000. He added that while it may not be advisable to think so, sometimes no comment means that some of the public is happy with the way things are going.

“We started this in 2003, and purchased the plant in 2004. If we had to do all over again, we'd head in the same direction.”


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