(CN) – A power plant can try to save a town from chronic flooding by lowering a dam above Washington’s historic Snoqualmie Falls, the 9th Circuit ruled Tuesday.
The Snoqualmie River spills over a 268-foot cliff to create the photogenic waterfall on its way to Puget Sound. Near the falls, where Puget Sound Energy operates a hydroelectric power plant, the river has to squeeze through a narrow channel that often overflows during heavy rains, subjecting the town of Snoqualmie just above falls to “persistent and significant flooding,” according to the court.
Puget Sound Energy, which has been trying to complete major plant upgrades for decades, hopes to alleviate the flooding by lowering a dam that sits in the channel.
The Army Corps of Engineers approved the project in 2009, issuing the company three general permits that “provide standing authorization for all activities that fit the description in the permit.”
But the project met a federal challenge from a group of downstream property owners who formed the Snoqualmie Valley Preservation Alliance. They argued that mitigating flooding above the falls could still cause more flooding below. The group claimed, among other things, that the Army Corps of Engineers should have subjected the plans to a more rigorous permitting process.
U.S. District Judge John Coughenour in Seattle ruled for the corps and the power company, and the 9th Circuit affirmed Tuesday.
“It is not the case, as the alliance implies, that the corps is using a shortcut to authorize a large hydropower project that will involve large amounts of discharge into wetlands or rivers,” according to the three-judge panel unsigned ruling. “All nationwide permits must comply with general terms and conditions, and many nationwide permits have their own limiting principles.”
This is not the first time that the federal appeals court has ruled on Puget Sound Energy’s longtime efforts to upgrade its power plant.
In 2008, the court found that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission did not harm the religious practices of the Snoqualmie Tribe by renewing the company’s hydroelectric permit.
Tribe members consider the mist created by the falls to be sacred. The National Register of Historic Places inducted the falls in 2009 based on its connection to the tribe’s traditional practices.