Flaming Gorge pipeline: Aaron Million files a reconsideration request with FERC in response to their denial of the preliminary application

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Environmental groups promise to fight the project at every turn, while a state task force will hear about Flaming Gorge pipeline proposals next week in Glenwood Springs. Fort Collins entrepreneur Aaron Million on Friday filed for a rehearing with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for his proposed 500-mile water pipeline from the Green River and Flaming Gorge Reservoir in Wyoming to Colorado’s Front Range. FERC rejected the application from Million’s Wyco Power and Water Inc. on Feb. 23.

Million’s response states that FERC made errors in its determination that the application was filed prematurely. The basis was that the water pipeline associated with hydropower projects has not been constructed. “Wyco contends that sufficient information and maps associated with the pipeline alignment have been provided to the commission,” Million stated in an 11-page request for rehearing and clarification. “We’re asking for clarification of why the decision was made, other than political pressure. That shouldn’t be a factor,” he said.

Million contends FERC has granted preliminary permits to other power projects in their infancy, including the Lake Powell pipeline project in Utah. He said Wyco plans to build the pipeline. Wyco already has issued requests for proposals to manage the project.

On Tuesday, the Flaming Gorge task force, formed by the Colorado Water Conservation Board at the request of the Arkansas Basin and Metro roundtables, will hear presentations from Million and from Frank Jaeger, whose Colorado-Wyoming Coalition has proposed a similar, but competing project.

More coverage from Electa Draper writing for The Denver Post. From the article:

On Feb. 23, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission dismissed Wyco Power and Water Inc.’s application for a preliminary permit on the basis it was premature. Officials said there was no purpose in issuing a hydropower permit without information on construction and operation of the pipeline, which Million couldn’t provide. Conservationists hailed the decision as a victory for the environment because, they said, Million’s project, which would divert water from the Upper Colorado River Basin to Front Range cities, would drastically lower the level of Flaming Gorge Reservoir, threaten four species of endangered fish, and further harm ecosystems, wildlife and recreation. “We hope that FERC will reject this appeal, and the project will die a much-deserved death,” wildlife biologist Erik Molvar said in a statement from the Biodiversity Conservation Alliance…

Million, in a telephone interview from Fort Collins, said FERC had asked for some additional information when Wyco filed the application in September. If there were additional deficiencies in the application, he said, FERC should have told him before accepting the application. However, Million said, Wyco doesn’t need the FERC preliminary permit to keep moving forward with other elements of the project. “We already hold the water filings in the river and for federal water rights,” Million said. “We already hold the priority filings. We’re going to move through the process, regardless.”

More coverage from Brandon Loomis writing for The Salt Lake Tribune. From the article:

Utah has used the same rationale in seeking approval for a Lake Powell pipeline to St. George, and Million’s new application questions whether FERC imposed the same requirements in advancing that project. “Wyco contends that it will be counterproductive and cost-prohibitive to secure all necessary permits and authorizations to construct the pipeline without confirming the locations of the associated hydroelectric facilities,” the company said in its filing…

“FERC certainly got it right the first time,” Earthjustice attorney Michael Hiatt said. “This project would clearly devastate the Green River.”

More coverage from Troy Hooper writing for the Colorado Independent. Here’s an excerpt:

Critics say the pipeline would drain 81 billion gallons of water each year from the Green River, a tributary of the already stressed Colorado River, and the state of Colorado projects the pipeline could cost as much as $9 billion to build. The Colorado River Water Conservation District, Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead, county and local governments in southwestern Wyoming and a multitude of conservation groups are opposing the potential pipeline that Million claims is needed for Colorado to meet its rising demand for water.

“FERC made the right decision in February,” said Matt Rice, director of the Denver-based chapter of American Rivers. “It is clear this is nothing more than a speculative project that if ever built would severely harm the recreational, economic, agricultural and natural values of the Green River. Mr. Million is grasping for straws. It is highly unlikely that FERC will reverse their decision.”

Gary Wockner of Save The Poudre added that “Mr. Million seems to think this process is like an Etch-A-Sketch, where he can just keep shaking and redrawing until he finally wears down the federal agencies and the opposition. The Flaming Gorge Pipeline is a fatally flawed concept that would devastate the Green and Colorado River ecosystems — we will fight it at every opportunity.”

More coverage from Amy Joi O’Donoghue writing for the Deseret News. Here’s an excerpt:

In a document filed Friday requesting a rehearing before the agency, Million argued that FERC should question if it erred by tossing his application for a permit in February on the basis that it was “premature” or incomplete…

Million said the agency needs to consider if it let the amount of comments and objections on record by multiple agencies unduly sway the commission. Opponents like the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, the U.S. Forest Service, Sweetwater County and Colorado Springs Utilities — as well as numerous conservation organizations — have asked the commission to legally recognize objections raised.

When the commission dismissed the preliminary permit application for Million’s Regional Watershed Supply Project, the agency said until the pipeline is built and authorizations are in place, it would be premature move the hydropower project forward. “The commission’s order implies that the final pipeline alignment, all authorizations to construct the pipeline and even the construction of the pipeline should be completed prior to filing an application for a preliminary permit” Million’s rehearing request said. Such a requirement, he added, is counterproductive and cost prohibitive absent knowing where the hydroelectric components would be sited…

“The developer’s application for a rehearing is a waste of taxpayer dollars,” said Michael Hiatt, an attorney with Earthjustice.

More coverage from Mark Wilcox writing for the Wyoming Business Report. From the article:

Aaron Million and his company Wyco, first proposed the water project to the Army Corps of Engineers. The Corps rejected the application in July of 2011 after two years’s consideration because they said Million failed to provide sufficient information. Million then proposed the Flaming Gorge pipeline to FERC as a power-generating project that would simultaneously quench the Front Range’s thirst in Colorado, and received an initial dismissal Feb. 23. The multi-billion dollar pipeline would transport water more than 500 miles to a reservoir at its final destination in Pueblo, Colo. “As presented in Wyco’s application, these hydropower projects are exclusively dependent on water from the proposed water supply pipeline,” the dismissal stated. “However, this pipeline does not currently exist, and Wyco’s application does not provide any information about the timeline for seeking and obtaining the necessary authorizations for the construction and operation of such a pipeline.”

Additionally, officials cited a lack of information on the route the pipeline would take through public and privately held lands. “Until…authorizations have been obtained for a specific route or the process to identify a specific route has been substantially completed, Wyco will be unable to prepare “[s]uch maps, plans, specifications, and estimates of cost as may be required for a full understanding of the proposed [hydropower] project,” the order read.

While the initial government dismissal was based on technicalities, many environmentalist groups are pushing for a more permanent dismissal. “Anyone who tries to divert Wyoming’s Green River over the Continental Divide doesn’t appreciate the value that it provides for native fish and wildlife, local economies and the western way of life,” said Earthjustice attorney Michael Hiatt in a statement. “The Flaming Gorge Pipeline—one of the biggest, most environmentally damaging water projects in the history of the western United States—would irreparably damage the Green and the Colorado River downstream.”[…]

Another group is now touring the region with a short film and presentation that reflect the damage the pipeline would do to Flaming Gorge and the Green River’s $118 million outdoor recreation economy. Studies indicate the lost water could raise salinity levels in the gorge and river to lethal levels for fish and other marine mammals. Opponents of the pipeline also indicate the potential downsides to mammals of building a 10-foot pipeline over the Continental Divide. “This thing is still on the rails,” said Walt Gasson, Trout Unlimited’s endorsed business director, “And still constitutes — to my way of thinking — to our way of thinking, a clear and present danger to wildlife conservation in Wyoming.”

More coverage from Steve Lynn writing for the Northern Colorado Business Report. From the article:

“[Wyco Power and Water Inc] respectfully requests that the commission grant re-hearing of the dismissal of preliminary permit application for the regional watershed supply project and to issue the preliminary permit for a term of 36 months,” the company stated in the document…

The pipeline would help meet the water needs of Colorado, which faces a water supply shortfall of between 500,000 and 700,000 acre feet in the next two decades, Wyco principal Aaron Million has said. He contends the federal government will take steps to protect river flows for recreation as well as enhance fisheries.

From the Denver Business Journal:

The Associated Press reports that Aaron Million of Fort Collins filed the request Friday with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission…

FERC’s permission was needed for the pipeline’s water to be used to generate electricity.

More Flaming Gorge pipeline coverage here and here.

It turns out that Colorado Springs did need a stormwater enterprise after all — where is Douglas Bruce?

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From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Daniel Chacón):

Melcher gave Mayor Steve Bach and the City Council five options, including making stormwater a responsibility of Colorado Springs Utilities and asking voters to pass a tax.

Melcher emphasized that Utilities should play a big role in the solution because he said the future of the $2.3 billion Southern Delivery System water pipeline is at stake. “Utilities right now has a shared interest with the city for a number of reasons, but particularly because their SDS project is contingent on a permit that requires the city, which includes Utilities, the entire city, to have a functioning stormwater system,” Melcher said during the monthly Mayor’s Counsel Meeting between Bach and council members. The 62-mile pipeline from the Pueblo Dam to Colorado Springs is under construction.

Colorado Springs is falling woefully behind on its stormwater needs.

The city should be spending $13 million to $15 million annually on stormwater, and the unfunded capital needs for stormwater are estimated at $500 million. The city is spending only about $1.2 million to pay for the federally mandated stormwater component of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System program.

At least two council members — Tim Leigh and Angela Dougan — said the city should try to find a way to pay for stormwater through Utilities’ budget of more than $1 billion.

More coverage from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

Colorado Springs Council, in a meeting with Mayor Steve Bach this week, was told by City Attorney Tim Melcher that it should be spending $13 million-$15 million a year for stormwater projects, rather than the bare minimum it now spends, about $1.2 million a year, to satisfy federal requirements…

There is a $500 million backlog of stormwater projects dating back to the 1980s. Options to fund improvements include raising water rates, already expected to double to pay for the $2.3 billion cost of SDS; shifting Utilities’ payments to the city; finding more money somewhere in general fund; or asking citizens to vote on creating a stormwater enterprise. Colorado Springs had a stormwater enterprise from 2005-09, but eliminated it after a campaign led by tax activist Doug Bruce against a “rain tax.”[…]

The option to vote on the enterprise could conflict with the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District’s plans to ask voters in El Paso and Pueblo counties to approve a mill levy. The district, formed in 2009, will run out of money at the end of this year, and no other source of funding is in sight until SDS is completed in 2016. At that time, Colorado Springs Utilities will begin making five annual payments totalling $50 million.

The [Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District] will hear a report at its April 27 meeting from Summit Economics on a regional stormwater solution. The study was commissioned by El Paso County communities to come up with a unified approach to stormwater management.

More coverage from J. Adrian Stanley writing for the Colorado Springs Independent Indy Blog. From the post:

Really, this was inevitable. Drainage problems aren’t going away. In fact, neglecting them too long will get the city in trouble with the feds, piss off [Colorado Springs Utilities], and probably lead to a few streets caving in.

According to City Attorney Chris Melcher, who spoke on the issue at today’s Mayor’s Counsel meeting, the city has a few options. City Council could simply write a law making Stormwater, or at least parts of Stormwater, the responsibility of Utilities. Alternately, Council could ask for a tax increase, or simply ignore the problem.

One thing’s for sure, the city general fund can’t pay for what needs to be done — about $15 million a year in work.

Both Council President Pro Tem Jan Martin and Councilor Brandy Williams responded by saying the city should cooperate with the Fountain Creek Watershed board, which is working on a regional solution to Stormwater. When that process wraps up, voters will likely be asked to approve a tax to cover project costs.

More stormwater coverage here and here.