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

While Skagit County's lawsuit against Seattle City Light over its financial records is pending, the county has raised additional concerns about the relicensing process for the city's Skagit River Hydroelectric Project dams. 

In a Sept. 28 letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the Skagit County Prosecuting Attorney's Office argues that the apparent involvement of the Skagit Environmental Endowment Commission in the Skagit River dam relicensing represents conflicts of interest on the part of Seattle. 

The commission was created in 1984 under the High Ross Treaty with the mission to protect and preserve wilderness and wildlife habitat, as well as support recreation, within the upper Skagit River basin. 

Seattle and the British Columbia government each appoint four commissioners and four alternate commissioners.  

Skagit County is objecting to the commission's involvement in the relicensing process on the basis that it is largely funded by the city of Seattle and has half its commissioners appointed by the city. Skagit County also argues that several of Seattle's appointees have direct conflicts of interest. 

Of the four Seattle-appointed commissioners, two are environmental attorneys with Cascadia Law Group, which represents the city, and one is a retired employee of Seattle City Light. 

Skagit County's letter, written by Skagit County Senior Deputy Civil Prosecutor Will Honea, called those appointments "inappropriately intertwined" and asks that FERC, which oversees relicensing, not allow the commission to participate in the process "in any capacity." 

Skagit County's concern over the potential role of the commission in relicensing stems from a May 28 letter the commission filed with FERC. In that letter, the commission wrote that it would work with license participants and stakeholders "to facilitate the identification of engagement opportunities." 

While the letter suggests the commission is uniquely positioned to bring British Columbia and Washington state stakeholders together to discuss relicensing, Skagit County asserts that the commission is too much under the control of Seattle. 

"Skagit County government fully recognizes the need for coordination, communication and collaboration between the tribal and non-tribal governments of the Skagit, both in the U.S. and in British Columbia. The appropriate way for that to occur is directly between democratically elected tribal and non-tribal governments, and not by means of a repurposed advisory body that is effectively controlled by and heavily financially entangled with the License Applicant (Seattle City Light)," Skagit County's letter states. 

A letter Seattle City Light submitted to FERC on Oct. 5 in response states that Skagit County's accusations are inaccurate and that the issues raised are premature because relicensing is in the study phase, a step that comes before the actual relicensing application is filed.  

"Skagit County's objection is without merit," states the letter signed by Seattle City Light hydro licensing lead Chris Townsend. 

According to the letter, that's in part because of the timing, in part because the Cascadia Law Group attorneys on the commission have recused themselves from any decisions related to relicensing, and in part because the commission is an entity separate from Seattle. 

"Although appointed by the British Columbia Premier and Mayor of Seattle, the SEEC acts independent of these governmental entities," the letter states. "The Mayor does not oversee or establish the agenda." 

The Seattle City Light letter also argues that the "well-respected international commission" should have a voice in the relicensing process. 

FERC spokesperson Celeste Miller said the agency will review the letters along with the rest of the documents filed as part of the relicensing at a date to be determined. 

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

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