Tribes rename Kerr Dam

Posted on 04 September 2015

The Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribal council has voted to rename the Salish Kootenai Dam.

The tribal council action Oct. 2 comes less than a month after the tribes renamed Kerr Dam Salish Kootenai Dam. The new name is Séliš Ksanka QÍispé. Tribal officials say the new name represents the Pend d’Oreille as well as Salish and Kootenai tribes, all of whom compose the confederation.

Kerr Dam, built in 1934, was transferred to the Salish Kootenai Tribes on Sept. 5, after 35 years of negotiations with Northwestern Energy and Montana Power, the former owners. The tribes will file their application to rename the dam this week with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, tribal spokesman Rob McDonald said.

The tribes paid $18 million to NorthWestern Energy for the dam, after years of mediation and arbitration.

During the transfer ceremony on Sept. 5, tribal council chairman Vernon Finley referred to the 1980s tribal council and praised their vision. “They put it in motion for us to be here,” he said. “We owe them everything.” 

Meanwhile, the Montana Public Service Commission has requested a rehearing on the relicensing of the Salish Kootenai Dam to Energy Keepers Inc. and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes.

The license transfer has attracted opposition from some residents and public officials who remain skeptical of the tribes’ ability to safely operate the dam. The state commission, a board consisting of publicly elected representatives from five state districts, voiced similar objections during the comment period for the partial license transfer earlier this year. In its request, the state utility commission said the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission failed to determine whether the transfer is in the public interest and whether Energy Keepers should be exempt from public disclosure requirements as the federal agency determined.

“Our primary concern with the licensing of Energy Keepers to operate Kerr Dam is to determine if it is in the public’s interest, and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s proceeding left far too many unanswered questions,” commission chairman Brad Johnson, whose district includes Flathead and Lake counties, said in a press release. 

Energy Keepers Chief Executive Officer Brian Lipscomb said the tribes had already answered those questions during the initial hearings on the transfer in 1985.

“We’re a little perplexed by it,” Lipscomb said. “We’ve met with the Public Service Commission a couple times and we’ve met with the public at large and laid out pretty clearly where the financing for the acquisition is coming from.”

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