Kerr Dam License Intervention Update

The only avenue left is for individuals to take action

By Verdell Jackson

Many misconceptions about the interventions in the sale of Kerr Dam during the last year have been in the media. My interventions were not on the sale of Kerr Dam. I intervened in the license transfer proceedings to require the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribe (CSKT) through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to meet the same obligations to the public as required of previous dam owners.

CSKT claims they are a sovereign government, which means that they will be immune from Montana state law, taxes, or the public oversight and regulation by the Montana Public Service Commission. The turnover of a facility that serves hundreds of thousands of people to a tribe that is not accountable to the laws of the state of Montana places the citizens at great risk for economic harm. If all or most of this is true, then statements in the FERC license are the only means to assure that the public duty will be protected.

The major obligations are fair electric rates, low cost block of electricity for Flathead irrigation project (130,000 acres), historic water deliveries for irrigation, state management of water rights, integrated power-agriculture operations, lake shore management, lake level management, non-discrimination in employment and public availability of water and financial records. These obligations are somewhat typical of monopolies and are put in place to protect the public. They are found in federal and state laws and regulations, Public Service Commission regulations and policies of past Kerr Dam owners.

CSKT has verbally stated that the dam will be operated in the same manner as it has been operated in the past, but at the same time they are also saying that they are a sovereign nation and they are not regulated by Montana; however, the CSKT attorneys in Washington, D.C. have contested every single obligation in the interventions and FERC lawyers have refused to consider putting any of the obligations in the license.

The FERC decision to allow the transfer of the license to CSKT without any oversight by the Montana Public Service Commission, without conditioning the circumstances under which the license was transferred, or further public hearings did not serve the public interest as was required of Northwestern and other dam operators throughout the state of Montana.

Due to the lack of accountability of federal agencies and no help from the state of Montana, the only avenue left is for individuals to take action. Two major obligations that were requested to be continued in my interventions are now being contested and may end up in court: low-cost block of electricity for the Flathead Irrigation Project and yearly payment to Lake County for the Kerr Dam facilities (in lieu of taxes). Loss of these obligations would have a huge financial impact (millions) on taxpayers, irrigators, schools, road maintenance and social services in Lake County.

Verdell Jackson

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