Tacoma Power, Skokomish Tribe reach agreement on Cushman Dam

After waiting more than 36 years, Tacoma Power has finally received an acceptable long-term license to operate the Cushman Hydroelectric Project. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued an order on July 15 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 Tribal Nation 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 has operated the project under short-term licenses while the parties litigated relicensing. On July 15, Tacoma Power received a 50-year license, the longest amount of time that FERC can grant, but it is retroactive to 1998 when the commission issued a license that was challenged by Tacoma Power and others.

“The acceptance of our licensing agreement by FERC ends years of uncertainty, mistrust and litigation for Tacoma Power and many others,” said Tacoma Public Utilities Director Bill Gaines. “We can now confidently assure our customers that we will be able to continue to generate clean, renewable power for many years to come, and we can move forward with a new cooperative relationship with the Skokomish Tribe.”

With the approval of the license, Tacoma Power can add new generators at the Cushman Hydroelectric Project to capture some of the energy from the flows released into the North Fork Skokomish River. The three megawatts of electricity produced from that project will help Tacoma Power meet renewable energy targets mandated by state law.

The license also sets in motion the settlement agreement with the Skokomish Tribal Nation, who will receive money and lands from Tacoma Power, including a $12.6 million one-time cash payment; 7.25 per cent of the value of electric production from the Cushman No. 2 powerhouse; and transfer of land valued at $23 million including the Camp Cushman on Lake Cushman, the 500-acre Nalley Ranch and Saltwater Park on Hood Canal.

“The Skokomish Indian Tribe is pleased that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has approved the issuance of a license for the Cushman Hydroelectric Project, as amended according to the terms of the settlement approved by the Tribe, the City of Tacoma, and the participating state and federal agencies,” said Joseph Pavel, Skokomish Tribal vice-chairman. “We look forward to working with the City as partners in the watershed implementing the conditions of the license.”