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Tribes challenge PUD tidal turbine proposal

The Island County hearing examiner will listen for two days to arguments regarding permits for a proposed tidal turbine pilot project in waters off Whidbey Island.

The Tulalip Tribes and the PC Landing Corp. are appealing permits issued by Island County for the temporary installation of two tidal energy generators in Admiralty Inlet and related onshore equipment structures.

The project is proposed by Snohomish Public Utility District. The hearing starts Thursday, March 6.

Craig Collar, assistant general manager of the PUD, said the appeals are nothing new, but are the same issues the parties brought up in challenges to the Federal Energy Regulation Commission, or FERC. He said FERC rejected the appeals and is expected to issue a license shortly.

Whidbey Environmental Action Network, or WEAN, filed as an intervenor with FERC for the pilot project. Members of the environmental group said they’re concerned about the on-land portion of the project, which could impact a scarce plant community.

Marianne Edain of WEAN said the group is interested in sustainable alternatives to fossil and nuclear fuels, but technology which may do damage in other ways is not a true alternative.

“We would love to see a genuine test of this technology,” she said in an email. “Unfortunately SnoPUD has been cutting corners and changing the rules to push through this pilot project.”

Collar strongly disagrees with this characterization.

“We would invite anyone who is interested to actually review the FERC application, record, and project plan and draw their own conclusions based on the facts,” he said.

Edain also questions whether Snohomish PUD conducted archaeological work, noting that fishermen found an anchor that may have been from Capt. George Vancouver’s 1792 voyage into Puget Sound on the west side of Whidbey Island, as first reported in the South Whidbey Record.

Island County Planning Director Dave Wechner said the county is in an unusual position with regard to the appeals.

The county issued a shoreline conditional use permit to the Snohomish PUD based on the PUD’s own environmental study required under the State Environmental Policy Act, or SEPA, he said.

Though the Tulalip Tribes and PC Landing are challenging Island County’s issuance of the permit, they are focusing arguments on the sufficiency of the PUD’s environmental review.

Edain claims the PUD changed the appeal rules on its SEPA determination so that it could not be appealed administratively. So appealing Island County’s issuance of the permit became a mechanism for challenging the SEPA.

Snohomish PUD proposes placing the “hydrokinetic pilot project” one kilometer west of Central Whidbey’s Keystone Harbor. It would be the centerpiece of the utility’s project to study the viability of using tidal currents to generate electricity.

The turbines would produce 300 kilowatts of energy, enough to power 250 homes, but will only be in place for three to five years.

The Tulalip Tribes argues that the PUD’s environmental study failed to address cumulative environmental impacts, failed to address impacts on endangered species and failed to address adverse impacts to Tulalip Tribes cultural sites on Central Whidbey from upland cable trenching operations, according to the statement of appeal.

The Tulalip Tribes is asking the hearing examiner to vacate the conditional use permit or remand the permit for additional environmental and archaeological review.

 

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