FERC sets new selection policy for dam safety inspectors

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission announced a new policy for selecting independent consultants for Part 12D dam safety inspections.

Part 12D of FERC's dam safety regulations requires hydro projects to be �periodically inspected and evaluated by, or under the responsibility and direction of, at least one independent consultant, who may be a member of a consulting firm.� Typically every five years, an independent consultant must identify actual or potential deficiencies that might endanger public safety.

The new policy stipulates an engineer or engineers from the same firm will not be approved as the independent consultant for more than two consecutive Part 12D safety inspections of any project. After two consecutive inspections by the same engineer or engineers from the same firm, the next Part 12D inspection must be performed by a different engineer not associated with that firm. Once consecutive inspections have been interrupted, the dam owner may return to the previous independent consultant.

Additionally, first Part 12D independent consultant inspections for newly constructed projects, or projects where a major dam safety remediation recently has been completed, may be performed by the design engineer or an engineer from the design engineer's firm. However, the second Part 12D inspection must be performed by a different engineer not associated with either the design or construction firm.

Limiting the number of consecutive inspections done by the same engineer was under consideration by FERC for some time. A review of the Part 12D program revealed that consecutive inspections by the same engineers is very common, with some projects inspected by the same engineer for five cycles, or 25 years.

Change to prevent �carbon copy� reports

Participants in the FERC Potential Failure Mode Analysis process noted that some Part 12D reports done by the same engineer tend to become �carbon copies� in which, in some cases, incorrect concepts or information are carried over for many years.

In addition, a panel of dam safety experts who conducted the recent peer review of the FERC dam safety program noted that even qualified consultants can miss an important consideration or make an incorrect judgment, and recommended that consecutive inspections by the same engineer be limited. FERC said human nature being what it is, an occasional inspection by a different engineer with a new perspective and insights can bring value to the process.

According to FERC, there is an understanding and appreciation that some dam owners have a preference and comfort level for independent consultants that they believe have done an excellent job over the years. Further, there is an appreciation on FERC's part that the change might create a short-term inconvenience in the dam owners' contracting arrangements.

Dam owners coming up on the next Part 12D inspection will be informed of the change in a Part 12D inspection reminder letter, which is sent at least one year before the due date of the inspection report. In addition, an informational letter will be sent to all dam owners required to do Part 12D inspections.

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