Tacoma Power, Skokomish Tribe mark Cushman Dam settlement

Tacoma Power and the Skokomish Tribe jointly held an event Sept. 9 to celebrate the transfer of land and money included in the settlement agreement between the two parties.

Tribal Chair Guy Miller signed the deeds transferring ownership of several pieces of property with cultural legacies for the Skokomish Tribe, including the Nalley Ranch Properties (more than 500 acres on the reservation at the mouth of the Skokomish River where there’s been significant work restoring the tidal estuary); Saltwater Park (nearly three acres of land on the reservation with more than 470 feet of shoreline on Hood Canal); and Lake Cushman Park (More than 500 acres of wooded land along the shore of Lake Cushman that was a significant part of the tribe’s cultural history).In addition to the land transfer, Tacoma Power also put $11 million into an account for the tribe and will make annual payments to the tribe based on the value of the electricity produced by the Cushman No. 2 Powerhouse. The agreement settled a longstanding dispute and enables the utility to continue operating its Cushman Hydroelectric Project until at least 2048, according to Tacoma Power officials.

“Here we are today being able to call ourselves partners in this watershed,” said Joseph Pavel, Vice Chair of the Skokomish Tribe. “It’s very significant.”

Tacoma Public Utilities Director Bill Gaines presented the tribe with a hand-crafted copper salmon and said, “Salmon have always been a part of your culture, and we give this salmon to you to signify our commitment to this process.”

Dedicated in 1926, Tacoma Power’s Cushman Dam No. 1 was one of the first major dams in the Pacific Northwest. The dam is on the North Fork of the Skokomish River near Hood Canal. It is 275 feet high and 1,111 feet long. Lake Cushman has a 23-mile shoreline. Just downstream, Cushman Dam No. 2 was completed in 1930, forming the small 150-acre Kokanee Lake. This dam measures 235 feet above bedrock and is 575 feet in length.

After waiting more than 36 years, Tacoma Power received a long-term license to operate the Cushman Hydroelectric Project. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued an order in July 2010 that amended a license issued in 1998 to include the terms of the settlement agreement that Tacoma Power and other government agencies signed with the Skokomish Tribe in January 2009. The licensing agreement allows Tacoma Power to operate the Cushman Hydroelectric Project until 2048. The original federal license for the Cushman Project expired in 1974. Tacoma Power had operated the project under short-term licenses while the parties litigated relicensing.