After nine years waiting on a new license to operate along the Catawba River, then getting it, Duke Energy will ask federal regulators to reconsider.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued a 40-year license on Nov. 25. The license allows the company to operate 13 hydroelectric stations on 11 reservoirs. It caps more than a decade of work by Duke, federal regulators and dozens of public and private stakeholders.
The license also clears the path for recreational and other improvements all along the river, including Lake Wylie.
“The significance of the new license cannot be overstated,” said Steve Jester, vice president of water strategy, hydro licensing and lake services for Duke Energy.
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But, the license could do more still. With regulators to issue the new license from 30 to 50 years, Duke and stakeholders wrote terms into their final agreement dependent on how long it lasts.
“Different provisions were tied to the license term,” said Jennifer Jabon, company spokeswoman. “With a 50-year term, an additional $3 million for land conservation would be provided for a total of $6 million, versus $3 million with a 40-year.”
The issued license includes almost 2,500 acres for conservation and recreation. A longer license would set aside more.
“A 50-year license includes a few hundred additional acres in conveyances and easements for land conservation, public recreation and water quality protection,” Jabon said.
The new license became effective Nov. 1. Duke has until Dec. 25 to review terms and conditions. Duke can file a request for rehearing if items need clarification or correction. Jabon said the company will ask for an extension to 50 years.
“We are eager to implement the many measures associated with the new license,” she said.
Duke filed for a license in 2006 to replace the original, 50-year certification it received in 1958. Several water quality and endangered species challenges drew out the process. In that meantime, Duke began implementing numerous parts of the new license including improved drought response, a water management group of municipal providers and scheduled recreational flow releases.
Many of the requirements under the new license are ongoing already. They include more regular and higher volume recreation flows, and $13.1 million for land conservation. Within a year, Duke will submit a final recreation plan for FERC approval.
Up to 55 of the 89 public recreation area improvements will be completed within five years. Duke will distribute $4 million to local governments and other partners for recreation, $3 million for land conservation, set aside almost 2,500 acres for recreation or conservation and install new aerating units at the Wylie and Wateree hydro stations in that same time.
Remaining recreation improvements will be complete within 20 years.
Prior to its initial application submission, Duke gathered 85 organizations for a three-year stakeholder process. They held more than 300 public meetings.
S.C. Sen. Wes Hayes, who passed surface water management and other legislation in recent years due largely to collaborative work spurred by relicensing, praised the effort for bringing distant interests along the bi-state Catawba together.
“The new license is a testament to the importance of regional collaboration and working together to find solutions to meet our water and energy needs,” he said.
Vicki Taylor, executive coordinator with the Catawba-Wateree Relicensing Coalition, said the result of bringing so many people together is a more balanced way of managing a shared resource.
“We will have more places to swim, fish, picnic, hike, boat and camp,” Taylor said. “Due to operational changes, the habitats of native plants and animals will be improved.”
The Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation, then led by Riverkeeper Donna Lisenby, participated in the stakeholder meetings a decade ago but ultimately decided not to sign off on the license application. Lisenby wanted more done to protect water quality and quantity. Of 85 stakeholders, 15 elected not to sign.
Most stakeholders at the time viewed the agreement as an unprecedented opportunity to partner with Duke for shared use of the Catawba. Barry Gullet, Charlotte Water director and member of regional water and drought management groups set up by relicensing, believes the area already is better off for the work put into the new license.
“The relicensing process brought regional water suppliers, resource agencies and industries together to address important issues,” he said. “Today, our region is a model of proactive involvement for sustainable water resources.”
The river provides drinking water for almost 2 million people, supports industry and serves more than 10 million people at recreation areas each year. It helps generate 25 percent of the power generated by Duke in the Carolinas.
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Some of the planned upgrades are:
▪ A canoe/kayak access and 10 parking spaces will be created and leased to Mount Holly at Dutchman’s Creek Access Area.
▪ Duke will lease the 37-acre Sadler Island to the U.S. National Whitewater Center.
▪ The company will provide up to $435,000 to build a new upper Lake Wylie access area in Mecklenburg County.
▪ South Point Access Area will be marketed to a commercial operator who will provide camping, fishing, swimming and hiking.
▪ Restrooms will be installed at Buster Boyd Access Area.
▪ York County will have an acre leased from Duke for an emergency access facility.
▪ Duke will add 48 acres to Allison Creek Access Area for development as a RV campground, with amenities leased and managed by York County.
▪ Rock Hill will get land for lease across the cove from its water intake for use as a park, to include fishing, picnicking, swimming, restrooms and parking.
▪ Duke will provide up to $165,000 to the Catawba Indian Reservation for a new canoe launch and parking area.
▪ The South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism will receive up to $265,000 for a new canoe launch, 50 parking spaces and restrooms at Landsford Canal State Park.
▪ Fort Mill Access Area will get restrooms, picnic tables and a mile of trail easement.
▪ ▪ A mile of trail downstream of Fort Mill Access Area will be provided, on the eastern river bank.
▪ York County will get up to $265,000 and a lease agreement for an access area and amenities near Simpson Island.