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Ross Dam is the northernmost of the three Skagit River dams operated by Seattle City Light.

In response to some indigenous people in Canada saying they were left out of the early review process for the relicensing of Seattle City Light’s Skagit River dams, finalizing the relicensing study plan has been delayed.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) agreed in mid-May to extend the comment period for the Nlaka’pamux Nation Bands Coalition through June 1.

The coalition represents 11 First Nation bands of the Nlaka’pamux Nation in British Columbia.

Five other bands of the Nlaka’pamux Nation have been represented in the relicensing process by the Nlaka’pamux Nation Tribal Council since April 2020, according to documents filed with FERC.

The Nlaka’pamux Nation Bands Coalition was formed in early May, after the 11 bands reportedly learned the dam relicensing was underway and the Nlaka’pamux Nation Tribal Council was acting as a representative for all bands of the Nlaka’pamux Nation.

A May 25 letter from the coalition to FERC states: “our request for an extension of time was predicated on the fact that the organization, the Nlaka’pamux Nation Tribal Council has purported to act on behalf of the collective Nlaka’pamux Nation in regards to this matter.”

Ancestors of Nlaka’pamux Nation people hunted, fished and gathered food in the mountains extending from what is today northern Washington into southern British Columbia — and they are fighting for the right to maintain those traditions, according to documents and web pages from various bands.

A June 1 comment letter from the Nlaka’pamux Nation Bands Coalition, represented by Cook’s Ferry Indian Band Chief Christine Minnabarriet, states it has concerns about a lack of salmon conservation, mitigation and enhancement included in Seattle City Light’s study plan for the three-dam Skagit River Hydroelectric Project.

“Salmon has always been integral to the way of life for the Nlaka’pamux people and the Nlaka’pamux Nation has an Aboriginal interest in salmon as a resource within the Skagit watershed which needs to be recognized,” the letter states.

The Skagit River watershed extends from the river’s headwaters in British Columbia through the Ross, Diablo and Gorge dams in Whatcom County, and through Skagit County to Puget Sound. The northern reach of Ross Lake extends into British Columbia.

The Nlaka’pamux coalition said it wants to see the relicensing studies include an assessment of impacts the Skagit River dams have on fish in the Canadian portion of the watershed.

“There is an acknowledged gap in stranding and trapping information for Ross Lake which could affect Nlaka’pamux fish interests in both the U.S. and Canada,” the comment letter states.

With the extended comment period closed, FERC is expected to issue a study plan determination by June 16, and stakeholder disputes must be filed by July 6, according to updated relicensing project timelines.

Seattle City Light Communications Director Julie Moore said the utility remains committed to completing fieldwork for the relicensing studies over the next two years.

— Reporter Kimberly Cauvel: 360-416-2199, kcauvel@skagitpublishing.com, Twitter: @Kimberly_SVH, Facebook.com/bykimberlycauvel

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