Seattle City Light, Eight Hundred Ton Gorilla With a Checkbook

Seattle City Light, Eight Hundred Ton Gorilla With a Checkbook

Seattle City Light has been an 800-ton gorilla recklessly throwing its weight around our valley for a long time. In 2014 City Light advanced an extremely dangerous initiative to divert the Skagit River directly toward our neighborhood through Barnaby Slough. And now it’s partially funding and providing study, political influence, and science support for a wildly risky WSDOT initiative to divert the Skagit River in the O’Brian Reach area.

The latest nightmare unfolding upstream aims to protect Highway 20 by opening some channels across the valley and diverting river flow along the south side of the valley connecting with Illabot Creek and the bodies of water immediately upstream of our neighborhood. The Skagit River has been stable here for over a century but Seattle City Light and WSDOT are studying diversion of the Skagit from its existing channel supposedly to protect Highway 20. Destabilizing the Skagit from the channel its been in for the last 100 years is a patently bad idea. 

Taking wild risks with our properties, our roads and our community to help City Light weasel out of fish passage at the dams is just reckless and irresponsible.

Though WSDOT claims that they won’t divert the Skagit, we know from public records request disclosures that “lifting” the river has been discussed numerous times. And it’s obvious that the intention of moving river flow through channels across the valley floor from Highway 20 down the south side of the valley would require diversion of the Skagit. We have viewed WSDOT study maps that show water being channeled down the south side of the valley into Illabot Creek and potentially into bodies of water immediately upstream of our neighborhood community.

Seattle City Light and WSDOT aim to channel O’Brian Reach flow into Illabot Creek and Seattle City Light, Skagit River System Cooperative and other sponsors of the Barnaby Reach project aim to divert Illabot Creek “through an historic channel connecting to Upper Harrison Slough, which flows out Harrison Pond and Lucas Slough to the Skagit River,” according to project funding documents.

Seattle’s municipal electric utility gorilla is bent on creating chaos in our valley home.

We have been dealing with the city of Seattle’s reckless heavy handedness here for years, from championing diversion of the Skagit River toward our neighborhood to this ill-conceived O’Brian Reach study. This gorilla with a checkbook apparently intends to go right on doing what it’s been doing, buying up land and engaging in high risk activities quite obviously intended to help it weasel out of building fish passage. City Light is looking for habitat projects that it can do as mitigation in order to avoid putting in fish passage at its dams. So, their bottom line is that they’re doing this because they hope to save money.

City of Seattle leadership, you have an environmental and ethical obligation to invest in fish passage. We imagine that the citizens of Seattle generally share this conviction. Your obligations extend beyond the profits you generate and the utility rates you provide big corporate entities like Amazon, which should share our desire for you to do the right thing for salmon in the Skagit River.

We are one large community when it comes to protecting our environment and vital features of it like salmon, and we should not let one-sided considerations like electric utility profit margins get in the way of caring for salmon. This appears to be what the City of Seattle has been trying to do. Why does the City of Seattle have to be forced by the federal government to do the right thing?

We ask the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to require the City of Seattle to mitigate for its dams at the dam locations, by building fish passage. This will provide access for fish to the 37% of the Skagit that exists above the dams.

And, with respect to WSDOT’s responsibility to protect Highway 20, its job is to protect state roads, not to serve City Light and its interests. WSDOT says it’s just studying this possibility, but they’re only studying this alternative. So, we don’t buy that this is just about studying this idea. There are some obvious alternatives that need to be explored, like moving Highway 20 out of the channel migration zone or just riprapping the Highway. Those are not being discussed publicly and have just been taken off the table.

What they are proposing is nonsensical. Diverting the entire Skagit River has all kinds of fairly uncontainable risks to Rockport-Cascade Road and SR 530, not to mention our homes and farms.

Because the dams block sediment it probably won’t form new habitat or help salmon much anyway.

The appearance created here is that Seattle City Light has effectively just decided what is going to happen to East Skagit County, and none of us matter.

What we are asking is that WSDOT decouple itself from Seattle City Light, and conduct an honest public and scientific process that transparently considers the alternatives.  WSDOT is a public entity, and we expect an honest and transparent analysis of the best way to protect Highway 20. What shouldn’t be happening is WSDOT using its authority to accommodate Seattle City Light’s effort to get out of paying for fish passage like the tribes are asking.

What we are asking is the law.   It’s not too much to ask.

And, by the way, we’re talking about Wild and Scenic Rivers here. Holy Salmon, Seattle City Light. Do the right thing. Go build fish passage at your dams and leave our home alone.

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