Accord lets water flow once again in Washington state river

TACOMA, Wash. — It's a river again.

After nearly eight decades as more or less a creek, the North Fork of the Skokomish River — a branch of the Hood Canal tributary all but wiped out by the construction of the Cushman Hydroelectric Project in the 1920s — has water flowing through it once more.

Even more help is on the way soon as a result of a historic settlement agreement reached early this year by the Skokomish Tribe; Tacoma Power, which owns the hydroelectric project; and numerous state and federal agencies.

The agreement gives the tribe a $12.6 million cash payment; 7.25 percent of the value of electricity produced by the No. 2 powerhouse; and hundreds of acres of land, including Camp Cushman and Saltwater Park.

It won’t be final until the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approves a new 40-year license for the project, a move that’s expected now that the parties have agreed to terms. The original license expired in 1974, and the city-owned utility has been operating under temporary agreements since.

For the tribe, the settlement ends decades of fighting against a dam that destroyed a river that once supplied much of its economic livelihood and cultural heritage.

“The river will experience significantly more flow than it’s had for the last 80 years,” said Pat McCarty, Tacoma Power generation manager.

For Tacoma Power, it removes the cloud of a $5.8 billion legal claim, and it means the utility can continue generating relatively low-cost electricity from a pair of dams that officials once suggested might simply be abandoned.

For residents who live on the lake behind Cushman Dam No. 1 – and the scores of recreational users who use the lake in the summer – it doesn’t appear the agreement will produce drastic change.

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