By KEITH RIDLER, Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho environment officials are proposing a $1 million fine as part of a settlement deal with Idaho Power involving pollution permits at 15 of the utility’s hydroelectric facilities. in southern Idaho.

The Idaho Department of Environmental Quality announced the proposed agreement with the utility on Thursday and is seeking public comment for 30 days.

Idaho Power obtained U.S. Environmental Protection Agency permits for the facilities for decades until the federal agency determined they weren’t needed in the 1990s.

In January, Idaho Power contacted Idaho officials after determining that policy changes could again require facilities to have permits. Idaho Power said it self-declared because it wanted to be proactive in protecting the environment.

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“We’re certainly disappointed there’s a fine associated with this,” said Ryan Adelman, Idaho Power’s vice president of power. “But we are also encouraged that there is a process to come into compliance.”

Mary Anne Nelson, administrator of the surface water and wastewater division of the Department of the Environment, said the two entities began negotiating after Idaho Power flagged the potential violations and mutually agreed to a route that used the courts to reach a settlement agreement.

“I would say they are good players in this area,” Nelson said. “It’s an action we took together.”

As part of the plan, the agency on Thursday filed lawsuits in seven counties against the utility for what it said were violations of the federal Water Quality Act and the Environmental Protection Act. Idaho Environmental Health. The proposed settlement agreement was announced the same day, indicating that negotiations were underway long before the lawsuits were filed.

One of the possible benefits of court involvement is that a settlement agreement must be approved by the court and gives both parties a definitive legal document for the future.

Each of the 15 hydro facilities was fined $72,870, which Nelson said was based on criteria developed by the agency. Most facilities had been unlicensed since the 1990s, but Nelson said the statute of limitations for such violations was two years.

In recent years, Idaho has taken over the issuance of pollution permits from the US Environmental Protection Agency. Idaho only started issuing pollution permits for hydroelectric facilities in 2019.

The proposed agreement requires Idaho Power to submit applications to Idaho for pollution discharge permits for the facilities. It also requires the company to comply with water quality standards as well as oil and grease effluent limits.

Adelman said some technology updates might be needed, but “we had permits in the past, so I don’t think there’s a significant improvement.”

The Department of the Environment filed complaints in Ada, Gooding, Jerome, Owyhee, Power, Twin Falls and Valley counties, where the 15 hydroelectric facilities are located.

The hydroelectric dams named in the court documents are American Falls, Bliss, Cascade, CJ Strike, Swan Falls, Lower Salmon Falls, Upper Salmon Falls A, Upper Salmon Falls B, Upper Malad, Lower Malad, Milner, Twin Falls, Shoshone Falls, Thousand Springs and Clear Lake.

Comments on the settlement agreement are accepted until May 9.

Idaho Power has more than 600,000 customers in southern Idaho and eastern Oregon. The company owns 17 hydroelectric facilities on the Snake River and its tributaries, with the Hells Canyon complex on the Snake River providing approximately 70% of the company’s hydroelectric generating capacity and 30% of the company’s total generating capacity.

The Hells Canyon Resort is not involved in the settlement agreement.

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