El Dorado County should soon be richer by $590,000. While the check from the Sacramento Municipal Utility District has not yet been cut, the concept for the bill goes all the way back to 1957.
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El Dorado County Supervisor Jack Sweeney compiled background information on the agreement between SMUD and the county that was conceived in 1957 and revised in 1961. Under the terms of that agreement, SMUD would generate power from its Upper American River Project and trade surplus water to the county for irrigation, agriculture and livestock needs. In return, the county would be responsible for road maintenance. He presented his documents at the board’s Nov. 13 meeting.
“There was no money provided for such maintenance and no impact money to the county for the implementation of the UARP,” Sweeney wrote in the board’s agenda packet. “It was thought that the tourism dollars derived from UARP users would offset county costs; that obviously did not happen.”
SMUD’s license to operate the UARP comes from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which requires a comprehensive process of evaluation when the license expires. The original UARP license was set to expire in 2007. Meanwhile, SMUD began preparing its relicensing application in 2005. A typical license extends from 30 to 50 years. As part of the process, SMUD and the county inked a Cooperation Agreement in 2005 that specifies a monetary settlement of approximately $2.9 million. Sweeney showed that the county received $1 million shortly after the agreement took effect and another $1.9 million in July of this year.
In addition to the lump sums, SMUD also agreed to make annual payments of approximately $590,000 to the county that “are to be used for activities related to the UARP.” That is, primarily for maintenance on Ice House Road and other secondary roads that traverse portions of UARP territory. Much of the area is under national forest or Bureau of Land Management jurisdiction, and the U.S. Forest Service was an original signatory to the 1957 agreements.
Since 2007, the utility has been operating on one-year license extensions. The new, long-term FERC license is expected in late winter or early spring next year, according to Carol Szuch, analyst with SMUD’s Power Generation Division. The first annual payment is due after the issuance of that license.
At issue during the meeting was whether or not the additional money should go into the already-established “special fund” for road maintenance and law enforcement within the area of the UARP.
“Over the years our maintenance group at the Department of Transportation (DOT) has succeeded in obtaining grants through the Federal Forest Highway Fund to make improvements and provide maintenance on the primary roads within the UARP,” Sweeney wrote. “However, these grants have and will require local matching funds. This would be a good use of the SMUD settlement funds.”
The Cooperation Agreement left the county with a substantial degree of latitude on how the funds actually were to be spent:
“SMUD’s payments as described in Section 4.2 are to be utilized by the county for purposes of road maintenance, watershed management, and other miscellaneous activities related to the UARP and its impacts on facilities owned or services provided by, or any resource or other interest within the jurisdiction of, the county.” (The complete agreement is available on the county’s Website.)
Sweeney recommended and the board eventually agreed to a four-way split of the projected funds.
The Rubicon Trail was not specified in the Agreement, however, since the Clean-up and Abatement Order issued by the Sacramento Regional Water Quality Control Board in April 2009, the popular off-roading trail has been high on the county’s road maintenance list. Sweeney suggested $200,000 be earmarked for maintenance of the Rubicon and an additional $150,000 for law enforcement along the trail. He urged the board to set aside $90,000 for the Georgetown Divide Public Utility District in accordance with other parts of the agreement. And he advised a reserve of $150,000 “for future matching funds for mainline roads in the UARP.”
Supervisor Ron Briggs suggested a formal amendment to the agreement which would lock in a reserve “to protect the Rubicon and do maintenance.”
Richard Thornberg from the U.S. Forest Service also lent his department’s support for the Rubicon and areas within the Crystal Basin, including Ice House Road. Other discussion dealt with suggestions to reduce the allocation for law enforcement on the Rubicon Trail, however John Arenz from the Rubicon Trail Foundation expressed grave concern for any decision to pull money from that service. He cited the Clean-up and Abatement Order’s directive to increase law enforcement in future.
The board voted unanimously to add the upcoming installment to the current reserve “special fund,” although final decisions regarding allocations will likely be made closer to the anticipated receipt of the funds.
Contact Chris Daley at 530-344-5063 or [email protected] Follow @CDaleyMtDemo.