Fate of U.S.-Canada dam license in question

Thursday, April 27, 2017

The holder of the U.S. federal hydropower license for a dam spanning the international border with Canada border has petitioned for approval to surrender that license, citing economic considerations.

At issue is the Forest City Project, located on the East Branch of the St. Croix River which forms the international boundary between the United States and Canada.  The Project operates under conditions set by the International Joint Commission (IJC) in accordance with the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909, as well as a license issued by the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.  The project currently operates under a license issued on November 23, 2015.  That 30-year license expires on October 31, 2045.

Licensed by the Commission as Project No. 2660, the project includes the U.S. portions of a 540-foot-long, 12-foot-high earth dam, an impoundment spanning several lakes, and appurtenant facilities. There are no generating facilities located at the project; rather, the Forest City Project operates as part of a headwater storage system along with two other projects licensed to Woodland Pulp -- West Branch Project No. 2618 and Vanceboro Project No. 2492.  Two hydroelectric generation projects are located downstream on the St. Croix River from these storage facilities, the unlicensed Grand Falls and Woodland hydroelectric projects.

On December 23, 2016, Forest City Project licensee Woodland Pulp LLC applied to the Commission to surrender its license.  A cover letter attached to that application states, "Woodland Pulp has determined that the high cost of operating the Project pursuant to the new FERC license renders the Project uneconomical." In the surrender application itself, the company cited license provisions including new operating restrictions on reservoir pool elevation, a reservation of the Commission’s authority to require additional fishways if so prescribed by the Secretary of the Interior, and a requirement to develop a Historic Properties Management Plan (HPMP), as adding risk or cost.  As noted in the surrender application, "After a comprehensive review of the conditions in the License, the minimal contribution to downstream power generation, and the significant added cost and increased complexity of the License, coupled with the loss of flexibility required to comply with the License, Woodland Pulp has concluded that it is not economic for the company to continue to operate the project.

As described by the Commission in an April 6, 2017 public notice of the surrender application, the licensee proposes to remove the gates on the west side of the spillway.  According to the licensee, removing these gates will return water flow to natural flow conditions, and the Forest City Dam will no longer act as the water control structure for East Grand Lake, nor will it use, obstruct, or divert international boundary waters.

The Commission has docketed the surrender application as P-2660-028, and set deadlines for comments, protests, and interventions in the case.

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