5.6 Wisconsin Electric Power Co. - Wilderness Shores Settlement Agreement Michigamme River, and Paint River, Michigan; Menominee

Project Description: Wisconsin Electric Company (WEC) owns and operates eight hydropower projects located in the Upper Menominee River basin in Wisconsin and Michigan. The projects have a combined output capacity of 61.1 MW. The basin is forested and sparsely populated.

Magnitude of Lands Protection: Approximately 18,116 acres of lands within the project boundary and over 5,000 acres outside of the project boundary are included in land management provisions for these hydropower projects. Stipulations for old growth forests, bald eagle habitat, riparian buffer zones, soil erosion, and timber harvesting are addressed in the Settlement

Agreement and FERC license and include:

  • WEC must deposit $145,000 annually to a mitigation enhancement fund to enhance the natural resources of the upper Menominee River.
  • 1,366 acres of land given in perpetual easement to Wisconsin DNR.
  • Riparian Buffer Zone established 200 feet out from water's edge that protects approximately 300 miles of shoreline. The first 150 feet from shoreline prohibits any timber harvesting and is designated a natural succession area. The next 50 feet allows for selective harvesting but no clearcutting.
  • WEC will retain ownership of and manage 4,000 acres of wilderness along Menominee River for old growth and biodiversity and will not be developed.
  • A riparian corridor will be established along rivers to be managed for old growth and public access. Land adjacent to the corridor can have limited development that meets a high standard of environmental and aesthetic quality.

Mechanism of Protection: A landmark settlement agreement was reached between WEC, Michigan DNR, Wisconsin DNR, NPS, FWS, River Alliance of Wisconsin, Michigan Hydro Relicensing Coalition, and others in 1997. The agreement separates lands owned by WEC into "project lands" and "non-project lands". The stipulations for project lands have been included in the FERC license conditions and are enforceable by FERC. The stipulations for non-project lands are enforceable by a court of appropriate jurisdiction as agreed to in the Settlement Agreement.

FERC Involvement: FERC issued 8 new licenses on January 12, 2001 that incorporate "relevant" sections of the Settlement Agreement. The incorporated terms relate to lands within the project boundary over which FERC has enforcement jurisdiction. FERC incorporated the stipulations of the Settlement Agreement almost verbatim into the license.

Current Status: There have been several requests for rehearing since the licenses were issued primarily concerning fishery and minimum flow issues. Several resource management plans are due to FERC in the next 6 to 12 months.