Tribes Look to Buy Kerr Dam

By Beacon Staff

POLSON – After 30 years of co-management, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes is making plans to assume sole ownership and control of Kerr Dam in 2015.

The concrete dam is situated on tribal land some five miles west of Polson and the tribe has been receiving land lease payments for the facility since it first started generating power in 1939.

In 1985 when a lease expired, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) established a 30-year co-management plan with the option for CSKT to negotiate the purchase of the hydroelectric dam in 2015.

Pennsylvania Power and Light currently owns the dam’s lease but CSKT has been setting aside money to purchase it for more than 25 years. The price, based on the original cost minus depreciation, must be agreed upon during a current two-year window or an arbitration process begins, CSKT attorney Joe Hovencotter said at a recent Polson Chamber of Commerce meeting.

While the process began last year with a starting purchase price of $54 million, CSKT believes the facility is worth considerably less.

The purchase of Kerr Dam is important to the economic viability of the tribes, said Councilman Steve Lozar, whose father was an oiler at the facility and lived at the village at its base.

But he said it’s also vital because of its location across the Flathead River on tribal land.

“The dam is built on a very holy and important cultural site and a very important spiritual site for the Salish and Kootenai tribes,” Lozar said. “That river is life giving. In our world view it is the main artery that pumps the blood through the reservation.”

The Kerr Dam, which helps regulate the top 10 feet of Flathead Lake, is 200 feet high, 381 feet long, has a generation capacity of 185 megawatts and annually produces about 1.1 million megawatt hours of power.

At current rates (about $50 per mgh), the facility generates some $55 million in gross proceeds with low operating costs.

“The issue of water and land on the reservation has been at the very heart and soul of the tribes for many, many years,” said Lozar, emphasizing no federal dollars would be used for the purchase.

Lost tax revenue for schools and local government with the tribal purchase of the dam is also being addressed, he said.

“All of those things are being addressed by the tribes now so we can mitigate any of those fears because they are unfounded fears,” said Lozar. “We want you to consider that dam as part of your economic community … money that otherwise was going to Pennsylvania. It will be money that stays here and that’s significant.”

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