Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Snoqualmie dam project OK was fair, appeals court says

by Matt Rosenberg June 27th, 2012

Despite strong community opposition tied to related downstream flooding risks, Puget Sound Energy is now even more firmly in the clear to further widen the Snoqualmie River, lower a dam and keep operating its Snoqualmie Falls hydro-electric power plant, according to a ruling issued Tuesday by the U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth District. The decision Tuesday affirms an earlier ruling in the Seattle-based U.S. District Court by Judge John Coughenour.

A hydro-power plant run by PSE drains water from the river in a narrow channel above the 268-foot landmark Snoqualmie Falls, and during heavy rains upstream from the falls in the City of Snoqualmie there is “persistent and significant” flooding, the appeals court ruling explains. The regional utility plans to widen the river, replace the old higher dam with a new lower one, and lower the channel above the falls. It maintains this will reduce flood risks and it won a less-stringent, general “nationwide permit” to proceed from the Army Corps of Engineers, rather than an individual permit subject to more detailed review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

But homeowners united under the banner of the Snoqualmie Valley Preservation Alliance and represented by the Bellevue law firm of Groen, Stephens and Klinge had appealed the District Court ruling in favor of PSE and the Army Corps. They argued flood risks to their downstream properties would worsen as a result of the dam improvement project. The Snoqualmie Valley Record reported in 2010 that local farmers and other property owners in the SVPA were suspicious of the new flood control project in part because an earlier one in the mid-2000s had been followed by significant flooding problems, and they felt a more thorough review was warranted.

The SVPA’s Web site says, “For too long the farmers, business owners, and families in the lower valley have been told that upstream development and projects have only a minimal impact on flood levels downstream. Yet three of the four largest floods on record have been in the past four years. That’s our reality – more frequent and devastating floods. The key issue is the cumulative impact of projects above the Snoqualmie Falls. NO studies or post-construction monitoring have been done by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on the actual impact of flood levels downstream since major widening of the Snoqualmie River was completed in 2005. New major river projects and widening efforts are in the pipeline upriver, and again, no one has answers to the cumulative impact on flood levels downstream…It’s time to stop pushing our problems downstream.”

It’s not clear yet if the Alliance will mount an appeal to to the U.S. Supreme Court, but more fundraising activities are planned by the 501(c)4 organization.

RELATED: SVPA media page.


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One Response to “Snoqualmie dam project OK was fair, appeals court says”

  1. Mr. D says:

    Good article, but people who aren’t lawyers often get the names of the courts wrong. It should be:

    U.S. District Court for the ___ District of _____ (e.g. Western District of Washington; District of Oregon)

    U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit; or U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit; or Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals