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Greens Say Dam Kills Protected Salmon

SEATTLE (CN) - A coalition of conservation groups has sued the owners and operators of a dam on the Puyallup River under the Endangered Species Act, claiming the dam is killing threatened Chinook salmon, steelhead and bull trout.

The Electron hydroelectric project traps and kills fish during dam operations, American Whitewater, and American Rivers say in the Jan. 12 federal complaint.

They sued dam owners Electron Hydro LLC, Tollhouse Energy Co. and investor-manager Thom A. Fischer.

The Electron dam is 40 miles southeast of Seattle on the Puyallup River, which originates on Mount Rainier and flows into the Puget Sound.

Puget Sound Power & Light built the dam in 1904. It's the oldest hydroelectric facility in Washington.

Fish are trapped and killed in the dam's turbines and when the dam's forebay is drained.

Government agencies were aware of the fish loss and expected the new owners of the dam to address the problem, according to the complaint.

"Puget Sound Energy owned the project until November 14, 2014, when it sold the project to Thom A. Fischer. Before it sold the project, Puget Sound Energy discussed with NMFS [National Marine Fisheries Service] staff the development of a Habitat Conservation Plan under Section 10 of the ESA to permit incidental take of ESA-listed fish caused by the project," according to the complaint.

"As late as 2008, Puget Sound Energy began a draft Habitat Conservation Plan for the project. In 2011, Puget Sound Energy suspended the effort to draft a Habitat Conservation Plan for the project before the plan was approved. In 2013, Thom A. Fischer met with NMFS staff, anticipating purchase of the project, to discuss effects of the project on ESA-listed fish. On November 14, 2014, Electron bought the project from Puget Sound & Energy. On December 4, 2014, NMFS wrote Thom A. Fischer: 'The Electron project kills and harms ESA-listed Chinook salmon and steelhead.' NMFS wrote: 'We expect you will agree that the project needs to soon implement measures to avoid or greatly minimize ongoing take.'"

The conservation groups say Electron failed to comply with the Endangered Species Act by taking Chinook salmon, steelhead and bull trout "through its ownership, maintenance, and operations of the project

They seek declaratory judgment and an order requiring the dam to stop diverting water from the Puyallup River until it obtains immunity from take liability from the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service.

The conservationists are represented by Andrea Rodgers with the Western Environmental Law Center.

"Wild salmon and steelhead are part of who we are in the Pacific Northwest, and protecting this habitat is critical to their recovery. This is a clear-cut case of illegal take of three species threatened with extinction," Rodgers said in a statement.

According to Electron Hydro's website, the owners are "pursuing a plan to screen for fish at the intake of the project."

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