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Cost of Wanapum damage estimated at $61 million

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Posted: Thursday, April 24, 2014 9:05 am

EPHRATA - Repairs, mitigation and lost revenue at Wanapum Dam could cost the Grant County PUD $61 million. But the utility probably will be able to meet the costs without asking for an extra rate increase, according to information presented at the Board of Commissioners meeting Tuesday.

Water levels behind Wanapum Dam will remain at low levels at least through July 4, according to information presented at the meeting. The shoreline will remain off limits as well.

Public utility district employees found a crack in one of the pillars holding a spillway Feb. 27. Officials immediately dropped the water level, and PUD employees have been working to determine what caused the crack and come up with a plan to fix it.

Chief Financial Officer Kevin Nordt said any cost estimates are still subject to revision. He estimated that power generation revenue will be about $8 million below the projections in the 2014 budget. Capital expenses, mostly in repairs, will be about $38 to $40 million, he said. The cost of remodeling the fish bypass systems, patrolling the shoreline, protecting cultural resources and addressing other impacts would be an estimated $15 million, Nordt said.

The PUD has about $200 million in reserves of various kinds, he said, with about $120 million available for any expenses. In addition, the PUD can pay for part of the project by issuing bonds, he said. There are other demands on the reserve money, he said, and paying for repairs will eat into those funds.

Nordt recommended the board should commit to paying back the reserves within five years. In order to pay off any debt and pay back the reserves, PUD officials have decided to look at expenses first, he said. All possible expenditures will be reviewed, he said. "Everything must be on the table," Nordt said.

The PUD board adopted a rate schedule that does include increases, but right now any additional rate increases are the last option, Nordt said. "The absolute last line of defense," he said.

Hydro Director Dawn Woodward said a report detailing how the crack formed and how it will be fixed will be delivered at the May 13 PUD board meeting. That report will be submitted to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission by the end of May, she said.

Utility district officials should have a tentative repair timeline by the May 13 meeting, she said, but the final plan probably won't be available until the end of June. It's still not known whether the repairs will be to the cracked spillway pillar only, or whether all the pillars might be reinforced as a redundancy, Woodward said.

In answer to a question from commissioner Bob Bernd, Woodward said a seismic shift (movement of the bedrock in the riverbed) has been ruled out as a cause of the crack. Concrete core samples were tested, she said, and passed the test. The concrete isn't the cause either, she said.

Spring salmon and steelhead runs are beginning, and the PUD made modifications to one of the fish ladders to make sure the fish could get upstream. There haven't been many fish so far, but the fish that have passed through are making it without injury, Jeff Grizzel, of the PUD, said. Some fish have been tagged at Priest Rapids Dam to determine if and when they make it to Rock Island Dam, while others will be followed all the way to their destination, he said.

Remodeling of two docks is about finished, Grizzel said, and a public meeting is planned for May 5 in Quincy to talk about the plans for the Crescent Bar area.

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