PCWA inks $3.3 million in consultant contracts for Middle Fork relicensing

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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With the $30 million Middle Fork American River Project FERC relicensing effort nearing the homestretch, the Placer County Water Agency has re-hired a half-dozen consultants to help it reach its 2013 goals. The water agency is teaming with Placer County to renew a 50-year license with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission by early 2013. Earlier this month, the agency’s board approved contracts totaling $3.3 million with six firms to continue consulting services in 2011 to augment the agency staff’s own relicensing efforts. The largest contract is for $2.19 million with CARDNO Entrix and will involve relicensing project management and environmental services. The other contractors are ECORP Consulting, Rainwater & Associates, Davis Consulting Earth Scientists, Thomas Johnson LLC and Andregg Geomatics. ECORP will focus on upgrades and improvements to the Middle Fork project’s infrastructure and powerhouses. Thomas Johnson work will include assisting agency, county and power industry staff members on the post-2013 transition into the energy market. Pacific Gas & Electric Co. has marketed Middle Fork Project power from the system of reservoirs and dams under a 50-year contract that ends in 2013 – the same year as the project’s 50-year energy generation license is up. Einar Maisch, water agency director of strategic affairs, said Wednesday that the relicensing drive reached a major milestone last October when the county and water agency filed a draft relicensing application with the federal commission. “We’re simply continuing to move ahead on relicensing with our existing consultants,” Maisch said. Comments are now being accepted by FERC and will be reviewed in anticipation of filing a final license application in February, Maisch said. Maisch said one unresolved issue revolves around the level of flows downstream from the Oxbow powerhouse, with the main conflict between what rafting and fishing interests want for flow levels. “We’ve always anticipated this and none of this is unexpected or new,” he said. The project budget is still about $30 million, he said. The relicensing effort should provide enough data to fishing and whitewater rafting advocates to reach what the agency and county believe should be very reasonable agreements, Maisch said. Coloma’s Nate Rangel, president of the California Outdoors whitewater industry organization, said fishing and rafting interests are working together as a coalition called the Foothills Water Network during the FERC relicensing process. “We’ve got some differences and to this point, we’ve been able to work them out,” Rangel said. “Up to this point, we’ve kept a solid, dedicated coalition.” Rangel said that he’s confident all major issues will be agreed on by the end of the summer or early fall. Chris Schutes, FERC project director for the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, said that while issues on the level of releases from Oxbow powerhouse are still to be discussed in detail, “as relicensings go, it’s going pretty well.” “We’re looking forward to continuing negotiations with the PCWA in the spring,” Schutes said. The water agency and county will be splitting any profits the future sale of power from the Middle Fork Project will generate. One projection forecast a windfall of as much as $100 million a year under the best-case scenario.