Fort Mill Times

Duke Energy eager to start work on Lake Wylie recreation projects

James Noaks of Lancaster fishes at the Fort Mill access area on the Catawba River below the Lake Wylie Dam. The park is one of several Duke Energy wants to improve once it gets federal approval.
James Noaks of Lancaster fishes at the Fort Mill access area on the Catawba River below the Lake Wylie Dam. The park is one of several Duke Energy wants to improve once it gets federal approval. Herald File

Duke Energy officials feel they’ve waited long enough for a federal license to continue operations on the Catawba River. And, they say, so have residents.

Duke applied for a new license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in 2006. The license is required to operate hydroelectric facilities, and would last 30 to 50 years. The 2006 filing aimed to replace the original license that expired in 2008.

Now, almost a decade after the filing, Duke still is waiting on federal approval.

“It’s time to do the work,” said Mark Oakley, relicensing project manager for Duke.

A host of improvements all along the Catawba basin are required by the new license. Duke will spend $16 million to meet the terms. Many improvements are for public recreation, where the company will create 89 new or expanded facilities including 55 in the first five years of the license.

“There’s going to be an absolute wave of construction of new facilities,” said Jeff Lineberger, licensing director with Duke. “I’m biased, but I think Duke has done a good job at providing access to reservoirs for motor boaters. What we haven’t done particularly well is provide access for people who don’t have motor boats.”

The new license, he said, will help. Improvements run the length of Lake Wylie, and the other 10 reservoirs on the Catawba chain. All but two of the new recreation sites are ready for construction or lease once Duke gets its license.

“We need to start getting those funds dispersed,” Oakley said.

Duke filled its final information request to the FERC June 12. Duke anticipated getting the license this past summer. Then, officials figured by the close of budget years at the end of September. In October the company filed a letter asking for a final decision by the end of 2015.

Some features of the new license began voluntarily as far back as 2006. Duke uses the drought response system and recreation flow schedules already. They have municipal stakeholder groups working on water supply and quality issues.

“It has been a long time,” Oakley said. “It has been a weary drudgery at times. It wasn’t wasted time.”

The drought management called for in the new license already served the area during two extreme droughts. The Catawba-Wateree River Basin Advisory Group that met in Rock Hill on Friday formed in response to the bi-state stakeholder effort toward relicensing.

S.C. Sen. Wes Hayes, an original and current advisory group member, said much has come from relicensing even without a license. Including work from drought management to the settlement of a U.S. Supreme Court case between the Carolinas over water use and interbasin transfer.

“It greatly benefits the states,” Hayes said.

“The water modeling legislation that’s been introduced in both states came out of this group. The settlement between the states came out of this group. It has made a huge difference.”

The Catawba-Wateree Water Management Group brought municipal water providers together at a time when it looked like increased demand for water and availability from the Catawba could meet sooner rather than later.

“We think we improved that pinch point situation to mid-century (through the license),” Oakley said. “That group, through the work it’s doing, believes they can extend that pinch point to the end of the century and perhaps into early next century.”

Still, the recreation improvements wait. Even the smaller ones, like putting restrooms at Buster Boyd and Fort Mill access areas.

“There’s all kinds of useful projects Duke is committed to and sitting ready to do for people and they just need to be able to start,” said former Lake Wylie Marine Commission and current advisory group member Smith “Smitty” Hanks.

The only recreational improvement so far are the flow releases for paddlers and anglers. The new license sets a schedule residents can use to plan time on the water.

“If folks know more about when we’re running,” Oakley said, “they may take advantages of those opportunities.”

Duke officials believe the new license will increase the amount and quality of available water, make the river more drought tolerant and provide unprecedented access. More than 10,000 acres of land throughout the basin will be preserved – as soon as federal regulators give the final signal.

Lineberger said Catawba lakes were made for power production, but the new license eventually will show just how much they can do for the communities surrounding them.

“Those reservoirs were built for one purpose, but they serve a whole lot of purposes in our daily lives,” he said.

What’s planned for Lake Wylie upgrades

▪ A canoe/kayak access and 10 parking spaces will be created and leased to Mount Holly at Dutchmans 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.

▪ York County will get up to $265,000 and a lease agreement for an access area and amenities near Simpson Island.

▪ Duke will lease the 137-acre Culp Island to South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism.

▪ A mile of trail downstream of Fort Mill Access Area will be provided, on the eastern river bank.

▪ Duke will lease up to 300 feet of lakefront or riverfront at Landsford Canal to South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism.

▪ Duke will contribute $1 million to each state for habitat enhancement to support, protect and enhance fish and wildlife habitat. The company will provide $4-$5.5 million in North Carolina and $5.32-$6.82 in South Carolina land conservation, depending on the term of the license.

▪ Duke will contribute $1 million to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources to create the Catawba-Wateree Project Fish and Wildlife Mitigation and Enhancement Fund.

▪ Lake level ranges and drought response measures improve. Local municipal water providers participate in water use decisions during times of drought.

▪ Recreational water flows will be released almost 70 days a year, on weekends and holidays from spring to fall. The agreement sets a list of when those releases will happen, so kayakers and other paddlers can plan trips.

▪ Public information increases, including easier access to lake level ranges, water release and power generation schedules, and maps to public access areas.