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Snoqualmie Falls, Sacred Site

Federal Agency Recommends Continued Operation of Power Plant

by Marsha Shaiman

The Snoqualmie Tribe is in Washington State. They are an unrecognized tribe. When the Washington Tribes were herded on to reservations, the Snoqualmie people stayed near the Snoqualmie Falls. It has been their millenia old responsibility to care for their people's sacred falls. The Snoqualmie Falls is a sacred site, not only to the Snoqualmie people, but to many of the coastal tribes. Puget Sound Power and Light is wanting to shut of the falls and divert the river for electrical production much of the year. The Snoqualmie people want the flow to continue for their culture and religion. The falls are also a significant tourist attraction with millions of people from all over the world visiting a year. In my mind this is proof of the power of the falls. The Snoqualmie people are requesting the help of the people of the world to continue the sacredness of the falls.

-- Serena [?]

Snoqualmie Falls, Sacred Site

"That's where Heaven and Earth meet. And the mists...that roll up to Heaven carry our prayers and our hopes and our dreams to the Creator of us all," says Ernie Barr, Jr., son of late Snoqualmie Head Chief Ernie Barr.

For the Snoqualmie People, who have lived for centuries in the Snoqualmie Valley, in western Washington, Snoqualmie Falls is central to their culture, beliefs, and spirituality. It is a traditional burial site, and the mists rising from the base of the waterfall serve to connect Heaven and Earth.

Tribal Elders say that, along with Mt. Si, Snoqualmie Falls is the most significant sacred site the Tribe has. Although normally reluctant to talk publicly about their spirituality, circumstances have forced tribal members to become outspoken in their opposition to continued operation of Puget Power's Snoqualmie Falls hydroelectric plant and in their support for full restoration of natural flow over Snoqualmie Falls - Decommissioning of the Snoqualmie Falls power plant.

Since 1898, Puget Power's Snoqualmie Falls power plant has diverted most of the flows that would pass over the Falls to an electricity generating plant, blasted into the rock behind and beneath the Falls. Diversion of the waters which should flow over Snoqualmie Falls is a desecration of this sacred site, as was the blasting done to create the plant. The Snoqualmie People had no say when this supposed miracle of modern engineering was first built at the end of the last century; they have no say now concerning a federal agency's proposal to allow continued operation of the power plant.

Federal Licensing

The power plant's federal license has expired and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is responsible for determining whether and under what conditions to issue a new license. In their decision making, they ignore the importance of Snoqualmie Falls to the spiritual and cultural life of the Snoqualmie People, and the federal laws and policies governing protection of sacred sites and licensing of hydroelectric projects. On hundred years after construction of the power plant, the Snoqualmie People still have no control over what is done to their sacred Snoqualmie Falls.

Need for Power

Although only about 1% of Puget's power sales is produced at Snoqualmie Falls, FERC recommends that the power plant continue to divert the Sacred Falls and continue to operate much as always. This, FERC claims is a balance of power and non-power usage of the Falls as required by law. Several years ago the Snoqualmie Falls Preservation Project concluded that shutting down the Snoqualmie Falls power plant - decommissioning - would cost about 60 cents a month to each Puget Power customer. Based on current power prices, which have dropped in the ensuing years, any rate increase would be even smaller. Alternatively, the small amount of power produced by diversion of the Falls could be replaced by conservation.

FERC Lacks Understanding of Native Culture and Beliefs

FERC has been criticized for their inability to understand the significance of Snoqualmie Falls to the Snoqualmie and other Native People. This lack of understanding is evidenced by their response when Puget Power shut down the first public hearing, held several years ago on FERC's draft EIS, by turning the power off with about 60 people, many of them Indian, remaining to speak.

FERC responded to requests for another hearing to allow Snoqualmie and other people to present testimony, by telling them to submit written comments. After being informed that Indian tradition is oral rather than written and that a large number of Indian people were waiting to speak, FERC again insisted that further comments be made in writing.

Ignoring what spoken testimony they did hear, FERC summarizes the support and opposition to relicensing of the power plant as 307 letters, 67% supporting decommissioning and 33% for relicensing. MaryEllen Ryan a member of the SFPP writes that at the public hearing she heard only one person, a Puget Power employee, speak in support of the DEIS. The large number of Native Americans from the Snoqualmie and other tribes, who opposed the power plant orally but not in writing do not count in FERC's tally. Also ignored were those who FERC refused to listen to. FERC, however, still claims their staff, "includes people with cultural resource training, Native American backgrounds and multi-cultural experience."

FERC Ignores Needs of Snoqualmie People

The SFPP, a coalition of the Snoqualmie Tribe, Church Council of Greater Seattle, and Washington Association of Churches, has proposed decommissioning of the power project and in its place a Spirit of the Falls Sanctuary Park to be co-managed by the Tribe and another entity, either public or private. Using tortured logic, FERC dismisses this alternative.

Since no one has yet come forward to finance and co-manage the park, FERC discusses decommissioning in terms of an unmanaged facility. Despite the Snoqualmie Tribe's clear statement that decommissioning is their preference, FERC concludes this could actually be detrimental to their spiritual practice. The FEIS claims if natural flows were restored to Snoqualmie Falls tourism would probably increase and therefore "it would be more difficult to obtain privacy necessary for spiritual activities or the power of spiritual experiences could be diminished."

FERC persists in claiming they know what is best for the Snoqualmie Tribe and they somehow manage to conclude that continued desecration would benefit the Tribe by guaranteeing them continued access to the Falls for spiritual purposes whereas decommissioning would not. FERC also wrongly concludes, that, since the Tribe still uses the Falls for spiritual purposes despite diversion, continued diversion would not be detrimental. If no Snoqualmie Indians continued to use Snoqualmie Falls for spiritual purposes, would FERC then conclude the power plant must be decommissioned?

Another point lost on FERC, although it has been made at public hearings, is that part of the importance to tribal members of restoring the flows is the knowledge that the Falls are free flowing and no longer desecrated by diversion.

Laws and Policies Relevant to License Process

Religious Freedom Restoration Act

In 1993 president Clinton signed into law the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. It states that before interfering with anyone's religions practices, the federal government must be able to show a "compelling interest" in doing so. This power project is licensed by the federal government. Does 1% of Puget's power sales and a potential and barely perceptible power rate increase constitute a compelling interest?

Executive Order Protecting Sacred Sites

President Clinton issued his Executive Order 13007 on May 24, 1996 to provide protection for Native American sacred sites on federal lands. The EO requires agencies to "(1) accommodate access to and ceremonial use of Indian Sacred sites by Indian religious practitioners and (2) avoid adversely affecting the physical integrity of such sacred sites." Is FERC, a federal agency, accommodating Indian religious practitioners and avoiding adversely affecting the integrity of Snoqualmie Falls by recommending continued diversion of the Sacred Waterfall?

Executive Order on Environmental Justice

President Clinton, in February 1994 issued an executive order concerning environmental justice. The E.O. requires federal agencies to develop environmental justice strategies that "identify and address disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects of its programs, policies and activities on minority populations and low income populations." Does diversion of this Sacred Waterfall constitute environmental justice or is it an "adverse environmental effect" of a federal agency's policy?

National Environmental Policy Act

The National Environmental Policy Act requires a detailed analysis of proposed alternative uses of Snoqualmie Falls. The FEIS only does a detailed analysis of power production. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) criticized FERC for their lack of analysis of Decommissioning in the draft EIS, stating, "This alternative analysis [decommissioning] is very speculative and does not appear to have been very well researched."

In the final EIS, although FERC claims, "The decommissioning alternative...[was] developed specifically for traditional cultural uses and values in response to Native American statements that only full natural flows would support such uses and values," they respond to EPA's criticism, stating, "At present, the disposition and management of the project after Decommissioning is uncertain." Does this constitute a detailed analysis of decommissioning?

Coastal Zone Management Act

The FEIS proposal for continued diversion (referred to as the "minor upgrade") violates the Washington State Costal Zone Management Act.

Federal Power Act

The Federal Power Act (FPA) requires that FERC give equal consideration to both power and non-power values. Although FERC has finally admitted, "The Snoqualmie Falls Hydroelectric Project represents a relatively small source of electric power," they claim, "Snoqualmie Falls helps maintain voltage control and adequate power factor in an area susceptible to voltage stability problems." Puget Power now purchases 60% of their power load. They have declined offers of additional power, based on lack of need. Would the purchase of an additional 1%, the amount needed to replace power from a decommissioned Snoqualmie Falls power plant, be too much to ask in consideration of non-power values such as preservation of a sacred site?

FPA also requires FERC to make a decision in the best interests of the public. Is desecrating a sacred site in our best interest? Is diversion of a 268' sacred waterfall which draws 1.5 million tourists annually in our best interest?

The Future

FERC staff has made their recommendation to the FERC commissioners that Puget Power be allowed to continue to divert Snoqualmie Falls for 40 more years, the period of the next license. Now it is up to the commissioners to make their licensing decision.

To help the Snoqualmie Tribe preserve Snoqualmie Falls as a sacred site, please write the people listed below. The following resolution was provided by the Snoqualmie Falls Preservation Project as a letter writing guide:

WHEREAS, Snoqualmie Falls is sacred to the Snoqualmie Tribe and is a world class waterfall that attracts one and a half million visitors annually; and

WHEREAS, the Tribe together with the Native American Task Force of the Church Council of Greater Seattle and the Washington Association of Churches and supporters from across this region, is working to preserve Snoqualmie Falls "for all people, for all time"; and

WHEREAS, Puget Sound Power & Light Co. is a highly respected private utility, whose leadership in energy conservation and service to its customers and shareholders has long been appreciated; and

WHEREAS, Puget Power has operated a hydroelectric generating facility at Snoqualmie Falls since 1898; and because the license for the hydrofacility having expired on December 31, 1993, the public has, for the first time, an opportunity to comment on the diversion of water away from Snoqualmie Falls to generate electrical power; and

WHEREAS, recent deregulation of the electric industry and negligible demand for the small amount of hydroelectric energy generated by Puget Power at Snoqualmie Falls indicate that a refurbished, relicensed project costing more than $30 million is not in our region's best interest; and

WHEREAS, the new suburban parkway, major housing developments at Snoqualmie Ridge and the recent sale of the Salish Lodge and Falls Crossing to a convention center developer call for a regional effort to preserve the waterfall and its natural surroundings, "for all people and for all time"; and

WHEREAS, the highest and best use of spectacular Snoqualmie Falls would be as the central feature of the natural, cultural landscape envisioned for a regional, publicly controlled, "Spirit of the Falls" Sanctuary Park;

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED THAT, we the undersigned call upon our elected officials and park management agencies, decision-makers, shareholders and rate-payers of the following parties - Snoqualmie Tribe, City of Snoqualmie, Metropolitan King County, State of Washington, Puget Sound Power & Light Co, FERC, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers - to formulate a vision and commitment for a regional, cooperatively managed park at Snoqualmie Falls "for all people, for all time."

Write to: Governor Gary Locke, Legislative Bldg, Olympia WA 98504; Senator Patty Murray, U.S. Senate, Washington DC 20510; Chair Elizabeth Moler, FERC, 825 N Capitol St NE, Washington DC 20426; Executive, King County Council, 516 3rd Ave, Seattle WA 98104.

For more information contact the Snoqualmie Tribe, PO Box 280, Carnation WA 98014. Phone (206) 333-6551; or the Snoqualmie Falls Preservation Project, 419 Occidental Ave S Suite 201, Seattle WA 98104. Phone: (206) 625-9790.