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FERC staff endorses fish passage for 134-MW Santee Cooper

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission staff has issued a draft environmental impact statement that recommends $32.9 million in fish passage and protection measures as part of relicensing the 134-MW Santee Cooper project on South Carolina's Santee and Cooper rivers.

South Carolina Public Service Authority (Santee Cooper) owns and operates the Santee Cooper project (No. 199), which features two powerhouses, the Santee Spillway station and Jefferies station, formerly known as the Pinopolis hydroelectric station.

FERC staff adopted the fish passage provisions and other mitigation measures from a November 2006 draft settlement agreement between Santee Cooper, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. FERC staff also recommended other measures not included in the draft settlement, such as a recreation management plan and shoreline management.

The fish passage provisions include building passage facilities at Santee Dam and Pinopolis Lock and Dam and implementing entrainment protection measures. The licensee would build and operate a trap-and-sort facility at Santee Dam and eventually build and operate permanent upstream fish passage, and implement eel passage measures. At Pinopolis Dam, an upstream fish passage facility could be built.

Post-licensing downstream fish passage and entrainment studies would be required to quantify downstream passage of migrating fish at Santee Dam, Pinopolis Lock, and Jefferies powerhouse to determine the need for facilities to pass such species.

The draft settlement also calls for minimum flows and enhancement of a national wildlife refuge. The parties intend for the draft's provisions to be incorporated into a final settlement agreement and ultimately to be included as conditions of a new FERC license.

FERC staff concluded that relicensing the project as proposed, with staff modifications, would be the best alternative for a comprehensive plan for the future use of the rivers while ensuring protection and enhancement of environmental resources. Under the staff alternative, the project annually would generate 220.9 gigawatt-hours, and produce $3.15 million more than the cost of operating the project.

FERC will accept comments on the draft EIS if filed within 60 days of publication of its notice. It also plans a public meeting May 2 in Moncks Corner, S.C., to receive comments. All comments will be considered in staff's preparation of the final EIS, which the commission will take into account before making a decision on whether to relicense the project.

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