Duke wants feds to hurry up

by Andrew Batten

(A): N.C. 73 Access Area: Two acres of land and approximately ten parking spaces to support canoe/kayak launching. (B): Lucia Access Area: Canoe/kayak access on Killian Farm Road with ten parking spaces. (C): Mountain Island Lake Trails: The company will provide trails planning and technical assistance to state and local governments. (D) Riverbend Access Area: Restrooms, bank fishing, a swimming area and a fishing pier. (E): Mountain Island Dam Canoe Portage: Provide a portage trail with canoe/kayak access.

Duke Energy is asking its hydroelectric stakeholders to sign a letter to ask the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to expedite the issuance of a new Catawba-Wateree license.

The license will allow the company to keep its hydroelectric operations on the river for the next 30 to 50 years. Delaying the license also will delay improvements to the Mountain Island Lake’s recreational access, Mark Oakley, a Duke Energy official, said in an e-mail to stakeholders.

The licensing process has been held up by North and South Carolina’s fight over the rights of the Catawba River’s waters. In 2007 South Carolina sued North Carolina after Concord and Kannapolis were allowed to withdraw water from the Catawba River.

The two states recently came to a settlement that will allow Duke Energy’s new license to dictate how much water each state can remove from the river. In late December the case was officially dismissed.

Now the federal commission wants an opinion from the National Marine Fisheries Service on how Duke’s operations could affect the endangered shortnose sturgeon.

“The (Marine Fisheries) process promises to take years to complete and this delay further delays a new license. Since FERC typically will re-evaluate a new license once it does actually receive an opinion, there is no practical consequence of such a decision, Oakley said.

Oakley asked the stakeholders to implore federal commission to not wait on the opinion.

A federal commission spokesperson did not return calls seeking comment on Duke’s new license.

Further delaying the license also would delay several projects Duke has promised to begin on the lake.

Those projects include:

• N.C. 73 Access Area: Duke will provide approximately two acres of land and approximately 10 gravel parking spaces to support canoe/kayak launching on N.C. 73 in the lake’s most northern region.

• Lucia Access Area: Duke also will build a canoe/kayak access on Killian Farm Road in Gaston County and approximately 10 gravel parking spaces. The company would then lease the area to the state.

• Mountain Island Lake Trails Planning Assistance: Provide trails planning and technical assistance to state and local governments to connect existing multi-use trail systems.

• Riverbend Access Area: Duke will install restrooms, bank fishing, a swimming area and a fishing pier at the access off Horseshoe Bend Beach Road. The company would offer the area to Mount Holly for lease.

• Mountain Island Dam Canoe Portage: The company would provide a portage trail with canoe/kayak access and signs.

Duke has also said it will continue operating its existing units at Mountain Island Lake Hydro Station to support water quality. And the company will contribute $1 million to the Habitat Enhancement Fund in each state and contribute $4 to $5.5 million to North Carolina state agencies dependent on the license term for additional land conservation.

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