In separate filings, the Upper Snake River Tribes Foundation, the Shoshone-Paiute Tribes of the Duck Valley Indian Reservation, and the Nez Perce Tribe asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to complete a supplemental EIS for relicensing Idaho Power's Hells Canyon Complex.
The commission has not yet responded to the requests, which argue that there are significant new circumstances and information surrounding relicensing issues since FERC's 2007 final environmental impact statement on the project.
The tribes point to methyl mercury studies causing concerns about the release of increased contaminants from reservoir sediments; a new stewardship program to reduce temperature and improve water quality; the need to evaluate impacts of climate change; a continuing decline of Snake River salmon and steelhead populations; and the need to evaluate the cumulative effects of the Columbia River System Operations on issuance of the license.
Idaho Power spokesman Brad Bowlin said the company expects a supplemental EIS will be part of the relicensing process. "There have been too many issues that have changed since the 2007 EIS, including Idaho and Oregon issuing water quality certifications, and the fish passage settlement agreement," he said in an email.
Bowlin said that a final application was submitted in 2003, a supplement to the application in July 2020, and draft biological assessments in October. Now the company expects FERC to move forward with the supplemental EIS process and conclude consultations with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA Fisheries. The utility hopes to receive a biological opinion from each before a new license order is produced, most likely sometime in 2022 or 2023, he said.
Bowlin said the EIS process will include a draft supplemental process with an opportunity for public comments, followed by a final EIS and issuance of a license.
On Dec. 21, the Upper Snake River Tribes Foundation filed a motion for late intervention in the FERC case. The foundation's members are four Native American tribes of the upper Snake River region, including the Burns Paiute Tribe; the Fort McDermitt Paiute-Shoshone Tribe; the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes of the Fort Hall Reservation; and the Shoshone-Paiute Tribes of the Duck Valley Reservation.
Idaho Power opposed the motion on Dec. 30, stating that the foundation's interests are adequately represented by its member tribes, three of which have been involved in relicensing efforts since the 1990s.