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.

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