GRDA's Vice President of Corporate Communications, Justin Alberty answers questions about the lengthy relicense process currently underway for the operation of the Pensacola Project.
(Editor’s note: This is the third article in a series regarding GRDA’s relicense request to FERC. Click here to read Part I and Part II.)
MIAMI – The Grand River Dam Authority (GRDA) has operated the Pensacola Project No.1494-438 for 25 years, since 1992. GRDA’s current license expires March 31, 2022, and the lengthy relicense process has started.
Depending on stakeholders’ location along the Neosho River or Grand Lake’s shores, and problematic historical and present issues, residents, property owners, business owners, tribes, and local governments have differing views of what the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) should require in the pending operating relicense.
To help understand GRDA’s stance on several issues raised in ongoing discussion regarding the relicense, Miami News Record’s Associate Editor Melinda Stotts submitted several questions to GRDA.
GRDA’s Vice President of Corporate Communications, Justin Alberty responded by e-mail.
MNR: What are GRDA’s specific responsibilities and duties by law and regulation in the relicense process?
GRDA: “As the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) licensee for the Pensacola Project, GRDA has many responsibilities throughout the relicensing process. Perhaps most importantly, GRDA must file its relicensing application two years prior to license expiration. This is a requirement established by federal law, and FERC cannot waive or change this requirement. The current license expires in March 2022; to meet its statutory deadline, GRDA is planning on filing its relicensing application in March 2020.
Beyond that, GRDA’s responsibilities will include preparing a proposed study plan for the relicensing effort, conducting environmental studies, consulting with federal and state resource agencies, tribal concerns, and other stakeholders, preparing its relicensing application, and responding to FERC’s information needs.”
MNR: How will GRDA be addressing issues of concern raised? Will GRDA wait until FERC provides direction, or will GRDA be preemptive in action?
GRDA: “GRDA has been, and will continue to be, proactive in identifying and addressing issues in the relicensing process. In fact, GRDA has already prepared a Pre-Application Document (PAD), which comprehensively identifies and analyzes existing environmental studies and information related to the Pensacola Project. The PAD and accompanying information, which is several hundred pages in length, are available on GRDA’s relicensing website, http://www.grda.com/pensacola-hydroelectric-project-relicensing/. In the PAD, GRDA has already proposed to conduct a comprehensive hydraulic model, a recreation facilities inventory and use study, and a cultural resources study. Throughout the relicensing effort there will many opportunities for federal and state resource agencies, tribes, the public, and other stakeholders to provide input. FERC’s process is structured to solicit and identify issues from relicensing participants, and to gather any information needed to address concerns raised. GRDA’s overarching goal is to always be as proactive as possible while complying with the FERC relicensing process.”
MNR: What, if any, major changes will GRDA be including in the relicense request to FERC?
GRDA: “Because the relicensing effort is still in the very early stages, it is premature for GRDA to speculate whether or not the relicensing application will propose any changes to the Pensacola Project. Such decisions will be informed by the information gathered in the relicensing process and GRDA’s assessment of how its statutory mandates are best met at the Pensacola Project over the next 30-50 year license term for the Project.”
MNR: Does GRDA have any plans at this time for conducting further studies for use in the relicense process?
GRDA: “As noted above, in its PAD GRDA has already proposed to conduct a comprehensive hydraulic model, a recreation facilities inventory and use study, and a cultural resources study. As the process moves ahead, and FERC conducts environmental scoping meetings and solicits information from federal and state resource agencies, tribal concerns, the public, and other stakeholders, we will gain better information as to what studies may or may not be needed.”
MNR: How will GRDA address concerns raised about the perceived inadequacy of past easement acquisition in this proposal?
GRDA: “GRDA recognizes that easement acquisition has been a challenging issue in areas upstream of Grand Lake. This is one of the reasons why GRDA has already proposed to conduct a comprehensive hydraulic model as part of the relicensing effort.”
MNR: How does GRDA propose to work together with the US Corps of Engineers in the future to look at overall rainfall and water levels of the entire watershed involved to avoid and better manage flooding incidents both upstream and down?
GRDA: “We’ve made tremendous progress in this area over the past several years. Because the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) has exclusive jurisdiction for flood control at Pensacola Dam under the federal Flood Control Act of 1944, this issue is somewhat beyond the scope of the FERC relicensing effort. However, as part of the recent FERC-approved changes to the Pensacola Project rule curve, GRDA is now responsible for coordinating with the Corps in anticipation of precipitation events (and drought conditions) in an effort to adaptively manage reservoir levels at Grand Lake, taking into account the Corps’ obligations throughout the basin.”
MNR: The City of Miami and GRDA have in more recent times worked in partnership for mutually beneficial economic development prospects. With certain economic development boosting proposed improvements to Miami, such as raised inlet and outlet highways above flood level, would it not be in GRDA and the lake area’s benefit as well to consider such concessions within the relicense?
GRDA: “GRDA looks forward to working with the City of Miami and all other relicensing participants in identifying effects of the Pensacola Project and addressing those effects in accordance with the requirements of the Federal Power Act and other statutory mandates. Because the process is still in its infancy, it would be inappropriate for GRDA to comment on any specific mitigation or enhancement proposal.”
MNR: What steps will GRDA include to work together with local Indian tribes affected by the Pensacola Project to hear and include tribal issues in the discussion going forward?
GRDA: “Throughout the relicensing process, GRDA and FERC will continue to communicate with tribes on issues of importance to them, and of course the tribes will have opportunities as other relicensing participants to fully participate in environmental scoping and public comments. In addition, GRDA has already requested FERC to designate GRDA as FERC’s representative for day-to-day consultation for purposes of identifying any Project-related effects on historic properties, in accordance with the requirements of the National Historic Preservation Act. GRDA expects the Oklahoma State Historic Preservation Office—both the Oklahoma Historical Society and Oklahoma Archaeological Society—to be closely involved in this issue as well.”
MNR: With increased generation and GRDA stakeholder profits how will local communities also benefit in the relicense for decades to come?
GRDA: “GRDA is a governmental entity created by the Oklahoma Legislature. As such, it is a cost-of-service agency and does not make any profits. Nonetheless, GRDA expects that local communities will continue to realize tremendous benefits from Grand Lake in the decades to come following the relicensing effort. Grand Lake will continue to provide water supply, shoreline management, public recreation, fisheries enhancement, and other lake-related programs—all of which are funded through GRDA’s cost-of-service rates and which are designed to preserve and protect this important resource. The Oklahoma communities within the watershed area will continue to benefit from the presence of Grand Lake as a foundation for a thriving recreation and tourism industry in Northeast Oklahoma that contributes to a broad tax base and economic development across the region.”
MNR: Would siltation dredging be considered or studied in the proposal to improve water flow and improvement to the health of the lake?
GRDA: “Because the relicensing process is still in its infancy, it would be inappropriate for GRDA to comment on any specific mitigation or enhancement proposal.”
MNR: What challenges does GRDA face with the relicense not present at the initial licensure?
GRDA: “We know from the previous relicensing of the Pensacola Project in the 1990s, and from GRDA’s more recent relicensings of its other hydro projects, that the process can be complicated. Even though we’re at the early stages of the relicensing process for the Pensacola Project, our past experience suggests that the environmental issues will be manageable, and that GRDA will be able to work through any challenges with relicensing participants. We are prepared to address issues as they arise.”
The Pensacola Project is located on the Grand (Neosho) River in Craig, Delaware, Mayes and Ottawa Counties with the Pensacola Dam retaining Grand Lake. The Pensacola Project serves multiple purposes of hydroelectric generation, water supply, public recreation wildlife enhancement and flood control.
FERC, an independent federal agency, is tasked with regulating and overseeing energy industries in the economic, environmental and safety interests of the American public. Ultimately the five FERC Commissioners; Chairman Kevin J. McIntyre, Cheryl A. LaFleur, Neil Chatterjee, Robert F. Powelson and Richard Glick will make the final determination on the approval and conditions of GRDA’s relicense.
Many other federal and state regulatory agencies are involved in the overall licensing process as well, such as fish and wildlife agencies.
Melinda Stotts is the associate editor of the Miami News-Record. She can be emailed at email@example.com or followed on Twitter @MelindaStotts1.