POST FALLS - Avista is planning rehabilitation work at its Post Falls hydroelectric dam this summer that will raise utility rates and could impact recreation.
"Hydropower is one of our most reliable forms of energy and one of the most cost-effective, so if we can't generate that at our dams, we'd have to procure that power somewhere else," said Anna Scarlett, Avista spokeswoman.
"The cost of providing energy continues to rise and, so the delivery of that energy reliably and safely is reflected in customer rates. It makes good sense for us to keep the dam working well so it can work as efficiently as possible."
The project includes rehabilitating the south channel spillgate next to the Q'emiln Park boat launch and replacing the headgate at the middle channel.
Scarlett said the project is slated to start in late June or early July after the spring runoff season and expected to be completed in October or November. She didn't immediately know an estimated project cost and said it's too early to know how much it will raise rates.
Scarlett said Avista customers won't likely see a rate increase due to the project for awhile.
"Rates are normally adjusted a year or two after we incur costs," she said.
Rate adjustments have to be presented to utility commissions in both Idaho and Washington and require public hearings.
"Part of the reason people pay rates is to keep our system maintained," Scarlett said.
Scarlett said the intent is to keep the boat launch at Q'emiln Park open as much as possible during construction. However, the project could delay the opening of the launch, in addition to the weather and runoff season, and there may be times where the launch is closed for safety reasons during construction.
"It could impact the recreation season a bit, but, by and large, our intent is to have as little impact as possible," she said, adding that the park should also remain open during most of the operation.
The launch typically opens between Memorial Day and the Fourth of July, depending on weather and inflows, and closes in November after Veterans Day.
Scarlett said during construction Avista will still be required to comply with summer lake and river level requirements that are critical to river recreation and directed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission under the dam license.
"We have to comply (with the license) during the work," she said, adding that FERC directed Avista to do the rehabilitation work.
The wooden headgate in the middle channel has been in place since the dam was constructed in 1906. It will be replaced with a steel one.
"It's an ongoing process keeping things updated and over time technology changes," Scarlett said.
Scarlett said some rehabilitation projects were postponed until after the dam license process that took several years.
Scarlett said Avista is well aware that recreation on the river is important to residents and affects property owners.
"Avista will work with agencies in and around Post Falls to minimize the impact on the public and property owners and ensure the project is done safely and as quickly as possible," she said.
Scarlett said the project is in the early planning stages and more information will be released as it is available. Avista briefed stakeholders about the project on Wednesday.
Additional signage will be posted around the dam during the project and the public is urged to adhere to the postings and warnings.
"People should have a pretty clear idea of what's happening and what to expect," she said.
Terry Werner, Post Falls public works director, said it appears the project will have minimal impact on his operations.
Avista's dam project isn't the only circumstance on the river that the city will deal with this year.
Another pending issue is a quarter-acre land swap proposal between Post Falls Landing Developer Harry Green and the city that has been in the works since 2007.
The swap has been further clouded because Green filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
The city owns the property where the Landing marina's gas tanks are. Green, meanwhile, has a similar-sized parcel that has a view of the dam that the city is interested in for a park area.
The city is continuing to work with Green's attorneys and the bankruptcy court to get the exchange finalized.
City officials said they are uncomfortable subsidizing private enterprise and are frustrated that a permit for the tanks on city property was issued because no one from the city signed off on putting tanks in there.
They said they're considering having the tanks locked and red-tagged if the swap can't be worked out before the summer season.
Mayor Clay Larkin signed the documents earlier for the swap, but Green didn't.
The Idaho Public Utilities Commission is accepting an application by Avista Utilities to adjust the variable portion of its natural gas tariff from 41.8 cents per therm to 36.2 cents, reducing an average residential customer's bill by about $3.46 per month, or about 5.7 percent.
Large commercial customers' rates will decrease by about 7.3 percent. The rate change is effective today.
Avista serves about 120,000 electric and natural gas customers in North Idaho.
The commission approved the application without the full 30-days' notice required for rate changes and accompanying public comment period so customers may more immediately benefit from the decrease.
A full text of the commission's order, along with other documents related to the case, is available at www.puc.idaho.gov. Click on "File Room" and then on "Gas Cases" and scroll down to Case No. AVU-G-12-01.