Congress passed the Elwha River Ecosystem and Fisheries Restoration Act in 1992, requiring the Secretary of Interior to restore the Elwha River ecosystem and native anadromous fisheries. Interior determined dam removal is the only option that would accomplish full restoration. The proposed project also is to protect and restore treaty fishing rights for affected Indian tribes. The act requires the National Park Service, which acquired the dams in 2000 from Daishowa America, to maintain the existing level of flood protection for developments along the Elwha River and to protect industrial and municipal water users from adverse water quality effects of dam removal.
NPS said restoration of natural sediment flow in the lower river would allow sediment to accumulate in areas that have eroded since the dams were built. That is expected to increase river elevations from 1 to 4 feet in some areas, with an average increase of 2 feet. Since the dams were built, about 18 million cubic yards of rock, gravel, sand and sediment have been trapped behind them.
In 2004, representatives of the service, city of Port Angeles and Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe signed a memorandum of understanding to advance the dam removal plan.
In January 2007, NPS sought a 10-year construction permit to remove the structures. Agencies reviewing this application were the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (in accordance with the Rivers and Harbors Act and Clean Water Act), U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (aspects that could affect the aquatic environment pursuant to the Clean water Act) and Washington Department of Ecology (for consistency with the Coastal Zone Management Act).
In June 2009, NOAA allotted $2 million to Elwha River floodplain restoration in Washington, with a goal of restoring 82 acres of floodplain in conjunction with plans to remove these two dams.
The work, including removal of the dams, power plants, power lines and associated facilities, is expected to cost $40 million to $60 million.
In late August 2010, researchers with the Northwest Fisheries Science Center and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife installed a temporary fish weir 5 miles downstream from Elwha Dam. The goal was to learn about salmon populations before the dam removal. Data collected from captured fish includes species, sex, spawn condition, fork length, presence of a coded wire tag or passive integrated transponder tag, fin mark, scale samples and DNA samples.
And in September 2010, NPS awarded a $26.9 million contract to Montana-based Barnard Construction Company Inc. to remove the two dams. In February 2012, workers were notching Glines Canyon Dam to lower the dam and reservoir to elevation 530 feet. Once that level is achieved, a 14-day hold will begin to allow the river to erode across the newly exposed sediments. At the same time, at Elwha Dam, contractors were excavating the river's channel in preparation for removing the remainder of the dam.
Deconstruction of the two dams is expected to be complete by 2014.
Veazie and Great Works Dams
In December 2010, the Penobscot River Restoration Trust in Old Town, Maine, struck a $24 million deal with PPL Corporation to buy three dams on the Penobscot River: 8.4-MW Veazie, 7.9-MW Great Works and 1.9-MW Howland. Of these, Veazie and Great Works are to be removed.
This sale culminates an agreement reached in June 2004 by PPL and a coalition of governmental agencies and private groups to facilitate the removal or bypassing of the three generating facilities to restore runs of migratory fish to the Penobscot River in Maine. The coalition includes the U.S. Department of Interior, U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, Maine Department of Marine Resources, Maine Atlantic Salmon Commission, Penobscot Indian Nation, American Rivers, Atlantic Salmon Federation, Trout Unlimited, Maine Audubon Society and Natural Resources Council of Maine. The group plans to decommission Howland Dam and leave it in place but install a bypass channel for fish passage. This work will open up nearly 1,000 miles of river habitat to 11 species of sea-run fish, including endangered Atlantic salmon, sturgeon and river herring. The Penobscot River once supported one of the largest runs of Atlantic salmon in the U.S.
In return for this removal, the settlement included agreement for improvements at its remaining hydro developments in Maine, enabling PPL to retain more than 90% of its original generation. For example, in May 2006, PPL announced it had increased generation at its 1.95-MW Stillwater project and planned to complete work the following month to increase generation at its 3.44-MW Medway and 13-MW West Enfield projects. The work involved adding flashboards at the top of each dam, raising the water level by 1 foot and increasing the pressure of water flowing through the turbines. This increased annual generation by 965 MWh at Stillwater, 2,303 MWh at Medway and 5,800 MWh at West Enfield.
"This landmark partnership has proven that business, government and interested citizens can reach mutually agreeable solutions that benefit the community, the economy and the environment," says Dennis J. Murphy, vice president and chief operating officer of PPL's eastern fossil and hydro generation unit, which sold its remaining dams in Maine to Black Bear Hydro Partners LLC in 2009.
In late 2007, the trust reached its fundraising goal of $25 million to purchase the three dams.
In addition, in April 2008, PPL announced plans to spend $4.7 million to renovate and recommission the 2.33-MW Orono project, increasing capacity to 3 MW. Work involved building a 20-foot-wide, 12-foot-tall concrete penstock to replace three 10-foot-diameter woodstave penstocks, the failure of which had idled the project since 1996. PPL also refurbished the four turbine-generator units in the powerhouse. Work on the Orono project was completed in March 2009. Capacity was increased to 2.78 MW, and it generates 20,000 MWh annually.
The trust exercised its option to move forward on the dam purchases in June 2008. And in November 2008, the trust filed for federal and state permits required to purchase the dams.
When PPL sold its Maine holdings, it retained the Veazie, Great Works and Howland dams, subject to the agreement. The agreement was completed in January 2009 when FERC approved transfer of those three projects to the Penobscot River Restoration Trust.
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