Grant PUD commissioners approve power allocations to Yakamas 6-5-07

EPHRATA, Wash. (AP) - Cash and power allocations worth $2 million to $8 million a year to the Yakama Nation have been approved by the Grant County Public Utility District as part of a licensing agreement for two hydroelectric dams.

The allocations approved Monday would be used to expand Yakama Power, the tribe's public utility, as well as for fish and wildlife program.

In exchange, the Yakamas would forego any damage complaints concerning the Priest Rapids and Wanapum dams on the Columbia River and would work with the PUD on power development on or near the reservation.

Tribal leaders are expected to approve the deal next Monday at Legends Casino in Toppenish.

The agreement should ease the strained working relations between the tribe and the central Washington utility, PUD general manager Timothy J. Culbertson said.

“It's pretty significant,” Culbertson said. “I would say that there are a lot of people that would like to have an agreement like this.”

Under the agreement, the tribe would receive the equivalent of 20 megawatts, enough for about 15,000 homes, during the first two years and then 15 megawatts over the next two years and 10 megawatts annually for the remainder of the 50-year license.

In 2016 the tribe would have the option of accepting electricity rather than cash but likely will stick with the money because the Bonneville Power Administration is considering a proposal allowing the Yakamas to purchase up to 25 megawatts of power a year, probably at less cost, Culbertson and Yakama Power general manager Ray Wiseman said.

“That is something that we're very interested in,” Wiseman said. “It would provide some long-term funding for our fish and wildlife programs. Again, it's an option.”

Yakama Power currently has six employees and supplies about 7 megawatts of power to the tribe's casino, a sawmill in White Swan and the tribal complex of government offices, Indian Health Services, cultural center, museum and 50-unit retirement center.

Eventually, the tribe wants to supply electricity for the entire 1.2 million-acre reservation, which includes four towns, at rates low enough to attract industry, Wiseman said.

“We're setting the stage for future economics,” he said. “We've got some work ahead of ourselves to assure that we've got the infrastructure in place to assure quality service, and then we'll go from there.”

Culbertson said PUD officials are interested in helping the tribe refurbish and add two generators in the Wapato Irrigation Project, install generators and fish passages at the Cle Elum Dam and - to meet renewable resource requirements - develop wind turbines and a steam generating plant fired by scrap lumber.