The Grand River Dam Authority will ask that its next license to operate the Pensacola Dam be for 50 years instead of the current license’s 30 years or the 40-year term now standard for federally regulated hydroelectric projects.
“We’re swinging for the fences and hope on this one we get a 50-year license,” Chief Executive Officer Dan Sullivan told GRDA directors during a board meeting Wednesday morning in Tulsa.
The Pensacola Dam, which forms Grand Lake, is operated by the state-owned GRDA under license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The current license was scheduled to expire on March 31, 2022, but in September was extended to May 31, 2025.
The GRDA asked for the extension in order to gather bathymetric data requested by the city of Miami and others unhappy with the operation of Pensacola Dam and Grand Lake.
Specifically, they contend that the lake’s normal water level is higher than it should be much of the year, and contributes to upstream flooding in Ottawa County.
GRDA denies the assertion.
Some upstream residents are also upset about federal legislation approved this year that they say restricts their ability to protest the lake’s operation.
Sometimes called the Inhofe amendment, after U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, the legislation is intended to simplify lines of responsibility for lake operations, the GRDA says.
“The bill passed in Congress is a tremendous advantage for us going forward, because it lays out what we’ve been saying for many years,” said Sullivan. “What is the respective roles of the GRDA, the U.S. (Army) Corps of Engineers and what jurisdiction to FERC have over those relative roles.”
Although the GRDA operates the lake under a license from FERC, the Army Corps of Engineers assumes control of Pensacola Dam — and Kerr Dam on Lake Hudson, which the GRDA also operates — during high-water conditions.
“There’s always been a tension about what FERC is able to say on lake levels and what the Corps has been able to do under their authority.”