December 28, 1996 in Idaho

Builder Vows Condemnation To Build Dam Harmsen Urges Federal Energy Panel To Join Fight Against The State

Associated Press
 

The man who wants to wring electricity from the Snake River at Auger Falls has vowed to condemn public land in the riverbed to build a dam.

“This condemnation action will commence within the next 30 days,” Steve Harmsen, president of Cogeneration Inc. of Salt Lake City, told the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in a letter it received Dec. 16.

“Cogeneration is saying something now that they haven’t said before, that they want to condemn the land,” said Laird Lucas, a Boise attorney with the Land and Water Fund of the Rockies. “The question now is, what price do you put on one of the last free-flowing sections of the Middle Snake River?”

Besides his pledge to condemn land for a dam, Harmsen urged the federal agency that regulates hydroelectric development to join his court fight against the state of Idaho.

The state Land Board last February unanimously denied Harmsen’s request for an easement to build a dam on state-owned land in the riverbed near Twin Falls.

The “unusual action of the State of Idaho is usurping of FERC’s authority,” Harmsen wrote, arguing that Cogeneration had an easement that the Land Board illegally withdrew.

Idaho Attorney General Alan Lance said state leaders did nothing to usurp FERC’s authority.

“The easement is a state function,” Lance said. “It’s our streambed and I think we have control over it. Our citizens don’t want to grant it. It’s not in the public interest and it’s within our right not to grant it.”

He said the state would fight any condemnation proceeding.

Harmsen’s letter to FERC sought a rehearing on the agency’s decision setting a July 25 deadline for the developer to break ground at Auger Falls or face expiration of his federal hydropower license.

As an alternative to a rehearing, Harmsen asked for another indefinite stay to keep his license from expiring. Twice before, FERC has granted similar stays just weeks before the license was due to expire.

The easement dispute with the state could become moot if Harmsen condemns the land under the eminent domain provisions of the Federal Power Act. In that case, the dispute would shift from whether he is entitled to the land to establishing a fair price for it.

“It’s not just how we value that land today, because this is a 50-year license,” Lucas said. “We’re talking about our grandchildren’s value on this land, and how do we put a value on that?”

Harmsen’s plans call for building a submerged dam across the river less than three miles downstream from the Perrine Bridge. A 1.6-mile canal would divert up to 2.24 million gallons of water from the river every minute to a 43.6-megawatt powerhouse near the mouth of Rock Creek.

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© Copyright 1996 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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