5.5 City of Seattle, Skagit River, Washington -- FERC Project #553

Project Description: The City of Seattle owns and operates three hydropower dams on the Skagit River in northern Washington. The project is located almost entirely on federal lands primarily on the Ross Lake National Recreation Area. Disputes over flow regimes for fish passage, wildlife protection, and recreation issues led to a settlement agreement process that began in the late 1970's and resulted in a comprehensive package that was submitted to FERC in April 1991.

Magnitude of Lands Protection: This project utilizes approximately 19,300 acres of federal lands within the Ross Lake National Recreation Area. The settlement agreement, including the conditions that have been included into the FERC license, amounts to approximately a $100 million dollar commitment to protect lands and wildlife. Seattle has agreed to spend $17 million on securing and preserving wildlife habitat in the upper Skagit River and South Fork Nooksack river basins. Seattle will also spend millions of dollars on campgrounds, trails, and boat launches, an erosion control program, and a greenhouse to propagate native plant species.

Mechanism of Protection: A settlement agreement between the City of Seattle, USFS, NPS, FWS, several Indian tribes and environmental organizations was submitted to FERC in May 1991 and portions of this agreement were incorporated into the project license in 1996. Under these conditions, the city of Seattle has agreed to purchase lands for wildlife mitigation, fisheries enhancement, and recreation. Many of the lands are located within the Skagit River basin downstream of the project and are primarily riparian/slough habitat. The largest tract is located northwest of the project in the Nooksack River basin and is being managed for elk habitat. Lands purchased under this agreement have been incorporated into the project boundary as "project islands." A riparian corridor averaging 3/4 of a mile wide has been established along eight miles of the Nooksack River. The city of Seattle has agreed to keep all lands for the term of the license and future licenses and will give land management agencies first right of refusal to purchase lands if the city does not renew its license.

FERC Involvement: Although FERC approved the settlement agreement, many of the terms and conditions of the agreement were not included as conditions in the new license issued by FERC in 1995. Of particular concern to the negotiating parties was the exclusion of the wildlife management agreement in which Seattle had agreed to utilize $17 million for securing and preserving wildlife habitat. FERC asserted that conditions, which addressed lands outside of the project boundaries, were not enforceable by FERC and should not be included in the license. After a lengthy appeals process, FERC reconsidered, citing reasonable arguments on the interrelatedness and interdependence of every element in the settlement. FERC then issued an Order on Rehearing in June 1996, modifying the license to include the original recreation and wildlife agreements.

Current Status: So far, Seattle has purchased 8,129 acres of private land for wildlife mitigation and 62 acres for fisheries mitigation.