Tacoma Power, Skokomish Tribe reach Cushman Dam settlement

Tacoma Power, the Skokomish Tribal Nation and state and federal agencies signed historic settlement agreements for Tacoma Power’s Cushman Hydroelectric Project Jan. 12. The agreements resolve a $5.8 billion damages claim and long-standing disputes over the terms of a long-term license for Cushman Hydroelectric Project, which is located on the Skokomish River in Mason County.

The licensing settlement agreement concludes nearly two years of negotiations and decades of contention between Tacoma Power, the Skokomish Tribal Nation and the many state and federal agencies that will oversee the implementation of the terms of the agreement.

The licensing agreement addresses issues that have sparked contention for many years, including river restoration, in-stream flows, fish habitat and fish passage improvements, wildlife habitat, restoration of fish populations and recreation.

“This is indeed a momentous occasion, after generations of protest and conflict over the construction and operation of the Cushman Hydroelectric Project by the City of Tacoma, the Skokomish Tribe has finally received recognition and accounting of the devastating effects this project has had on our people,” said Joseph Pavel, Chair of the Skokomish Tribal Nation. “The impact to the Tribe can never be undone, but this agreement represents an opportunity to begin the healing process to the environment the tribe depends upon for its survival. The health and well being of the Skokomish Watershed is vital to the Skokomish Tribal culture, tradition, subsistence and economy.”

As part of the settlement, the Skokomish Tribal Nation will receive money and lands from Tacoma Power, including $12.6 million one-time cash payment; 7.25 percent of the value of electric production from the Cushman No. 2 powerhouse; 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 licensing agreement, once accepted by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), will allow Tacoma Power to operate this electrical generating resource for another 40 years. Tacoma Power also will have the opportunity to construct an additional generator to capture some of the energy from the restoration flows being released into the North Fork Skokomish River.

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. In 1998, FERC issued a license that was broadly appealed. This licensing agreement resolves the settlement parties’ disputes by proposing modifications to the 1998 license. FERC, which issues operating licenses for hydroelectric projects, will thoroughly review the settlement agreement prior to amending the 1998 federal license for the Cushman Hydroelectric Project.

Settlement agreement signers include Tacoma Power, Skokomish Tribal Nation, Bureau of Indian Affairs, National Marine Fisheries Service, United States Forest Service, United States Fish & Wildlife Service, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and Washington Department of Ecology.