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Metaline Falls set to roar again on Sept. 20

RIVERS – Last September, for the first time in 27 years, the Pend Oreille River's Metaline Falls were exposed as workers lowered the reservoir behind Boundary Dam for dam maintenance.

Starting this week, the falls will roar again as Seattle City Light workers continue the project by replacing a 312-ton sluice maintenance gate.

The reservoir will be lowered twice, utility officials say, but the falls are scheduled to be most exposed on Sept. 20.

Read on for details.

Boundary Dam bill advances

OLYMPIA – One of this session’s David vs. Goliath matches involves Pend Oreille County in the role of the shepherd with the slingshot, and Seattle City Light, starring as the over-sized  Philistine.

The utility may take issue with the characterization, but few other people would have objected Thursday during the Senate Government Operations and Elections Committee hearing, which passed along a bill designed to solve the long-standing dispute between the two over the Boundary Dam.

The city utility owns the dam, built in the 1950s, and uses much of the electricity to keep the lights on, the homes warm, the stores and coffee houses open in Seattle. It also sells the excess power, at a good rate, to other users across the West.

It doesn’t pay local taxes, but instead pays a negotiated impact fee to the county for the dam. When the latest 10-year contract on those fees expired in 2008, negotiations over the next 10-year agreement broke down. Pend Oreille County thought they should be considerably higher; Seattle City Light disagreed.

The Legislature held off jumping into the dispute last year, but it dragged on for 2009, and Pend Oreille County was sorely missing those payments. $1.3 million is not chump change in a place with high unemployment and underemployment. This year, Rep. Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda, dropped a bill that ordered a utility of a city with more than 500,000 people (read: Seattle) that has a dam in another county (as in Pend Oreille)  to negotiate impact payments, keep making payments set up under an old contract while negotiating a new one, and pay the cost of arbitration if negotiations break down.

Considering that there are considerably more legislators who represent Seattle than Pend Oreille, and Democrats control both houses, one might have thought Republican Kretz’s bill had about as much chance as the Jamaican bobsled team getting the gold. But no…

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