(Editor’s note: This is the first part of a multi-part series regarding GRDA’s relicense request to FERC.)

Members of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) are in an information gathering and decision-making process that will affect the Grand River Dam Authority, Grand Lake stakeholders, the City of Miami and the entire Grand Lake region for the next 30 to 40, or possibly even 50 years.

The FERC Process Overview public meeting, which took place in December in Miami, drew a full house of area residents, landowners, business owners, community and tribal leaders to the Coleman Ballroom  -  with all seeking information about the GRDA's relicense request to FERC for the operation of the Pensacola Project No.1494-438.

FERC's Integrated Licensing Process seemed to some gathered to be as clear as the mud left behind after flooding occurs in Miami, but the importance of the pending decision seemed to be crystal clear to all.

“How’re you going to reach all these folks that don’t deal in process, or understand stakeholders and eFiling, because there’s a lot that do not,” a community member said during the meeting. “They have to understand what it is you’re actually looking for.”

Pensacola Project

The Pensacola Project is located on the Grand (Neosho) River in Craig, Delaware, Mayes and Ottawa Counties with the Pensacola Dam retaining Grand Lake.

The Pensacola Project serves multiple purposes of hydroelectric generation, water supply, public recreation wildlife enhancement and flood control. Many other federal and state regulatory agencies are involved in the overall licensing process as well, such as fish and wildlife agencies.

The FERC presenters, Project Coordinator Rachel McNamara and South Branch Chief Stephen Bowler, said each person impacted by the pending decision must tell their story.

FERC previously provided three other public meetings in Langley and Grove, earlier in the month, but did not schedule the Miami meeting until a request was made from the City of Miami.

“We did not originally plan on doing a separate meeting here. We offered them in Langley and Grove. When we spoke to the city they asked, and we were more than willing,” McNamara said.

Bowler said FERC had hoped Miami residents and others in the area would have attended the other three meetings, and was now convinced by the large turnout last week at the Coleman of the need to hold meetings in Miami.

“We had nobody there, and we had a wonderful turnout here,” Bowler said.

Mayor Rudy Schultz thanked FERC for scheduling the Miami meeting and all those in attendance.

Relicense Process

The FERC relicensing process takes a lengthy five years total to complete.

GRDA has been operating the Pensacola Project under a license issued in 1992, and that license expires March 31, 2022.

FERC, based in Washington, DC, is an independent federal agency tasked with regulating and overseeing energy industries in the economic, environmental and safety interests of the American public.

Ultimately the five FERC Commissioners: Chairman Kevin J. McIntyre, Cheryl A. LaFleur, Neil Chatterjee, Robert F. Powelson and Richard Glick will make the final determination on the approval and conditions of GRDA’s relicense.

Oklahoma State Representative Ben Loring (D-Miami) said he has concerns with GRDA’s prioritization of the issues involved, putting flood control last.

“Decades ago GRDA made the decision they were not going to buy all flood easements that their hydrologists were telling them they needed to have. They made a conscious decision they would just flood what they needed to, and pay for the damages,” Loring said. “Since then they have refused to pay for the damages, and still don’t own the easements that they need. So where does that come in the calculations and the process?”

Others in attendance had the same concern, asking if issues not addressed in GRDA’s previous licensing would be addressed in the relicensing process.

McNamara and Bowler responded saying these issues, comments and information need to be brought into record during this current process for discussion, analysis, and possible study.

The meeting was attended by one representative of GRDA, Ecosystems and Lake Management Administrative Assistant Jacklyn Jaggars, who was introduced after an attendee asked if someone from GRDA was present.

The FERC representatives explained in great detail FERC's jurisdiction over the project granted under the Federal Power Act, the licensing standards and consideration and laws and regulations that are all part of the long relicense process.

“The purpose of the meeting is to talk about process,” Bowler said. “We’re going to talk about the various opportunities to participate, but in the end, we work for a commission of five Presidential appointees confirmed by the Senate, and our Commission under the Federal Power Act, is responsible for making licensing decisions.”

Integrated Licensing Process

Upon GRDA’s filing of the application for relicensing, the Integrated Licensing Process (ILP) includes FERC’s public notice in the legals section of the local newspaper, and contact with individuals and groups with a vested interest in the project.

McNamara explained the complex ILP and steps first before explaining how residents and stakeholders can file comment regarding GRDA's proposal. GRDA is expected to file Notice of Intent, and the Pre-Application Document for the relicense request on Feb. 2, 2018, which begins the five-year process.

Once GRDA files the Pre-Application Document (PAD) or draft document, as part of the pre-licensing process area residents and stakeholders may provide written comments by mail or e-Filing, provide oral comments and ask questions at public pre-filing scoping meetings the week of Feb. 5, 2018, and submit study requests by March 13, 2018.

“You’ll be able to comment in person at scoping meetings,” McNamara said.

The FERC scoping meetings, open to the public, are currently scheduled for Wednesday morning, Feb. 7 in Langley followed by a tour of the powerhouse with an evening meeting in Grove, an evening meeting in Miami on Thursday, Feb. 8, and a morning meeting Friday, Feb. 9 in Tulsa.

Locations and specific times will be posted by GRDA on its website, by FERC eSubscription notice as well as the local paper’s legal section. (The Grove Sun will keep publish notice in the news section of the paper as well.)

“The best way to be informed about the project is to eSubscribe,” McNamara said.

Stakeholder Comments

McNamara explained how stakeholders’, members of the public, agencies, tribes and organizations with a stake on the Commissions’ licensing decision, comments and input are gathered, analyzed and then summarized by FERC staff to help the Commission weigh and determine how best to balance the benefits of electricity generation with environmental effects of operating the generating facility.

“Your information is critical to our understanding,” Bowler said.

After the first round of commentary, FERC will issue a scoping document. GRDA will then issue a Study Plan after which stakeholder, GRDA and FERC Study Plan Meetings will be scheduled in May of 2018. Further comments will then be taken at that time until Sept. 9, 2018.

It is anticipated on Nov.3, 2019 GRDA will file a preliminary licensing proposal, stakeholders may then again file comments regarding the proposal by Feb.2, 2020.

Involvement is highly encouraged by FERC to allow identification, discussion, and analysis of issues and concerns, which may influence which studies to conduct and study licensing decisions.

“What I really want to highlight for you is the project number, which is P-1494-438. If you are commenting or looking to find information about the project using our electronic systems you will need those numbers,” McNamara said.

It was clear most in attendance at the meeting wanted direction on how they can get involved in the process and have their concerns heard by FERC.

Stakeholders will have opportunity to comment at certain steps in the pre-filing process. Once all steps in the pre-filing process are completed, at this point, the post-filing process will begin and only official parties to the proceedings, or interveners, will participate in further hearings and any legal processes.

The City of Miami has hired legal counsel and has indicated will be intervening on behalf of the residents and business owners of the city. Local Native American Tribes with land and various interests in the project are also planning to participate in commentary and as legal interveners.

Attorney Larry Bork who represents the City of Miami in current legal action regarding easements and other issues asked the residents to respond and to realize FERC is seeking important input.

“The City is going to intervene, so the burden is not all going to be on you guys to carry this,” Bork said. “The anecdotal stories and how it actually, literally has impacted you, those are the things the City can’t do, and what FERC is inviting you to do.”

During comments, a Peoria Tribe member Lee Ann Reeves said she purchased her home on tribal jurisdiction and felt GRDA has violated her civil rights by flooding tribal lands by not providing equal opportunity in engaging tribes involved and tribal members during past proceedings.

“Miami tribes are involved in this because they have done untold damage to us as a sovereign nation,” Reeves said.

FERC met with the tribes under obligation of Section106 the day before the latest public meeting to hear tribal concerns and will continue to do so, according to McNamara.

“Well 106 has been violated on a regular basis, “Reeves said.

One attendee said she has filed again and again during previous FERC proceedings numerous times.

“You’ve got our stories. I don’t know what you’ve done with them,” she said.

Bowler said this proceeding is a new and separate process and residents and stakeholders must file commentary again to be counted in this relicensing process.

“The rest of it was like minor leagues, the pre-season game. This is the real deal,” Bork said.

Two years before the expiration of the current license, GRDA officials will file a final license application by March of 2020, which includes the results of any studies, starting the post-filing process, which concludes once FERC issues a license order, which can be issued for a term of up to 50 years.

More information may be found and filings and issuances accessed regarding the Pensacola Project at FERC’s eLibrary database at elibrary.ferc.gov, and stakeholders can receive an eSubscription of email notifications of all issuances/filings related to the proceedings at ferconline.ferc.gov using the project ‘s identification number, P-1494-438.