During two days of meetings, GRDA presented their Proposed Study Plan as part of the relicensing process for the operation of the Pensacola Project No.1494, which encompasses Grand Lake.

Editor's Note: This is the second article on the GRDA relicensing proposed study plan. Read the first article here.

LANGLEY – Grand Lake O' The Cherokees serves many purposes as part of the hydroelectric Pensacola Project No. 1494. Operations of the project that the Grand River Dam Authority must balance.

During two days of meetings at the Grand River Dam Authority's (GRDA) Ecosystems and Education Center in Langley, GRDA presented their Proposed Study Plan as part of the process for relicensing with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ( FERC).

The GRDA study proposal plan fell far short to many stakeholders in attendance.

GRDA's license for the operation of the project ends March 31, 2022, and must be approved by FERC for relicense.

GRDA filed its Proposed Study Plan with FERC on April 27, which lists and details the planned proposed studies. GRDA has proposed five separate studies for relicense purposes; a Hydrologic and Hydraulic Modeling Study, Sedimentation Study, Recreation Facilities Inventory and Use Survey, Socioeconomics Study, and a Cultural Resources Study.

“Since its original construction in 1940, Grand Lake has been one of the premier lakes in the Midwest and the crown jewel of a chain of lakes in the northeastern Oklahoma region. Grand Lake is consistently ranked among the top lakes for bass fishing in the region and is also a haven for migratory waterfowl and other wildlife. Its 42,500 surface acres of water provide a variety of recreational opportunities and boost the region's economy. Businesses rely heavily on the recreational attractions at Grand Lake – which, during the major holidays in summer, is one of the most heavily populated areas of the State of Oklahoma. The Pensacola Dam's turbine generators produce nearly 345,000 megawatt-hours each year of clean, non-emitting, renewable electricity for thousands of homes and businesses – creating jobs and sustaining economic growth,” GRDA's Chief Executive Officer Dan Sullivan wrote in a Jan. 19 letter.

In contrast, Miami and Ottawa County residents and business owners to the north of Grove and Grand Lake filed written public commentary with FERC regarding experiences with flooding, economic hardship, and other issues believed to be caused or exacerbated by GRDA’s operation of the Pensacola Project No. 1494, and asked for extensive study of the effects of the operations of the Project.

During the last day of the meetings required of GRDA by FERC on May 30 and May 31 presenters gave overviews of the final three studies proposed by GRDA for relicensing.

Recreation Facilities Inventory and Use Survey

The Recreation Facilities Inventory and Use Survey was presented by Danielle Hanson of HDR Engineering. The study will include an inventory and a quantitative condition assessment with information to be collected from each of the five FERC approved regulation areas, Duck Creek, Seaplane Base, Monkey Island, Big Hollow, and Wolf Creek.

Information gathering will include the type of recreation provided, existing facilities and sanitation, type of vehicular access and parking available, opportunities for access for persons with disabilities. Descriptions and photographs will be compiled of each location studied.

Each recreation facilities will be rated using criteria, which is to include if the facility needs, replacement, repair, maintenance or is in good condition.

An in-person visitor use survey will also be conducted at these five sites from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., on two weekend days, and two weekdays each month from May through September. In addition, data will be collected and recorded regarding observed recreational activities, number of vehicles, number of recreational users, date, time and weather conditions.

There will be no inventories or use surveys conducted on upstream or downstream recreational facilities.

“This study is just focusing on the GRDA sites to ensure they are providing adequate access to their facilities,” Hanson said.

Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation representatives and others present asked how recreational areas are defined and why the study is narrowed to only five launch areas on Grand Lake when there are 90 or more recreational facilities included in the project’s area.

“My concern is this is a really big project, 47,000 acres anybody around here and probably the FERC people at this point know it’s very popular, and so at the Dept. of Wildlife we field a lot of complaints that access isn’t good enough,” an ODWC representative said. “I’d like you to look at ways to increase access or drastically improve access.”

Other commentary indicated the study is only to look at facilities owned and managed by GRDA, the licensee, but a larger representative sample of recreational facilities would be more beneficial to review for relicense purposes.

The effects of high water or low water level events on the Project’s recreational facilities are not included in GRDA’s proposed study plan, and the plan is only to study uses and accessibility, according to Hanson.

Socioeconomics Study

The Socioeconomics Study proposed by GRDA was presented by Jenna Borovansky of HDR, who described the goals and objectives of the study are to gather, synthesize, and report on existing information necessary to qualitatively evaluate the socioeconomic effects of the Pensacola Project in the study area. The area of study includes Ottawa, Craig, Mayes and Delaware Counties.

The study's objective is to describe the baseline economic conditions in the Project area and identify the socioeconomic contribution of the Project in the state and region.

Borovansky said the study will only include the effects of current operations and will not take into effect the impact of past issues such as flooding or the proper procurement of easements.

Borovansky said they study will look at available information that will be used to create a baseline of the existing conditions of the Project going forward.

“No, the study plan does not include going back,” Borovansky said.

She encouraged further public commentary be submitted and entered for the record

Attendees expressed concern that other issues of concern for upstream residents, businesses, industries and tribes including increased areas requiring FEMA flood hazard insurance, lower property values, emergency access, and infrastructure are not included in GRDA’s plan.

“Infrastructure is not in the scope of the study,” Borovansky said.

She said the study’s inclusion of such data depends on the availability of information, but ultimately falls on the responsibility of those affected to identify and submit the information for consideration.

The study will be conducted using a desktop review of available regional socioeconomic data regarding demographic and economic conditions of the region. The assessment completed will identify; population, employment data, state and regional industry trends, regional trends in land and resource values, for example; tourism, hunting fishing, etc.

The Pensacola Project's economic impact on the state and region under current operations and the potential state and regional economic impact of proposed operations are included.

Cultural Resources Study

The Cultural Resources Study proposed presented by Rob Quiggle of HDR Engineering. Quiggle said the study will be done in consultation with FERC, Oklahoma State Historic Preservation Office, Oklahoma Archaeological Survey, Native American Tribes, Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Cultural Resources Working Group and Area of Potential Effects (APE).

An archival review and background research, field investigation, a reconnaissance survey report, and other methodology will be used to develop a Historic Properties Management Plan

A list of goals and objectives for the study includes archival reviews, a reconnaissance survey and report, resource study, cultural resources study, traditional cultural properties, historic properties management plan, and more, and Quiggle went over the methodology to be used.

Local Tribal leaders and staff from several tribes listened intently and expressed concerns over the proposed methodology and study objectives proposed, and reminded GRDA of the need for tribal consultation and urgent mitigation to avoid impacts to areas of tribal importance and significance.

BIA Regional Archeologist spoke of the requirement and need for tribal consultation and agreements in handling or photographing artifacts or archives, and access to any tribal lands or properties.

After the initial Cultural Resources Study was presented, the Cultural Resources Working Group met in closed session to discuss sensitive and confidential subject matter in more depth to protect these cultural resources.

The next step in the relicense process is for comments to be submitted regarding GRDA's Proposed Study Plan which are due to be filed with FERC by July 26, 2018.

Submission of comments must include the Project docket and sub-docket number on all filings, Pensacola Project No. P-1494-438.

Key Regional Locations Pensacola Project Map

Melinda Stotts is the associate editor of the Miami News-Record. She can be emailed at mstotts@miaminewsrecord.com or followed on Twitter @MelindaStotts1.