Input sought on Albeni Falls fish passage passage

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(Image courtesy U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) The fish passage project’s preferred alternative involves trapping bull trout and hauling them upstream to be released.

PRIEST RIVER — The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is seeking public input on a project to provide permanent upstream fish passage at Albeni Falls Dam.

The project includes an entrance, ladder, holding and sorting areas and truck-loading area at the dam, according to the agency’s regulatory filings.

Project funding is contingent upon appropriations. A cost estimate for the project was not immediately available on Friday.

The deadline to submit remarks on the passage proposal is Thursday, Dec. 28.

Operation of the passageway would be nearly year-round. Operations are expected to cease in August, when temperatures exceed lethal thresholds for bull trout, and during winter periods when the Pend Oreille River or the facility ice over.

Congress authorized construction of the dam in 1950 as part of the broader Columbia River system. The dams were congressionally authorized for flood control, power generation, navigation, recreation, in addition to fish and wildlife conservation. However, no fish passage facilities were constructed at Albeni Falls.

The Columbia River’s population of bull trout, which includes the Pend Oreille River’s bull trout, were listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1998.

Prior to the dam’s construction, native fish such as bull trout, could navigate Albeni Falls, but upstream passage ceased when the dam became operational in 1952.

A 2000 biological opinion developed by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service required the corps and other agencies to implement ways of ultimately restoring fish passage at federal hydroelectric projects.

The biological opinion called for the restoration of two-way fish passage, although the project being eyed at Albeni Falls focuses on upstream passage of adult and sub-adult bull trout.

Downstream passage is possible at Albeni Falls, according to a 2014 survivability study which found that 90 percent of trout species could pass through the damage without being injured or killed.

“Therefore, the corps is at this time only seeking to address upstream fish passage at AFD,” corps officials said in a project notice.

Construction impacts are anticipated due to rock-blasting operations and other work. An estimated 20,000 cubic yards of rock will be excavated to accommodate the fish passage facility.

Direct comments on the fish passage proposal to CENWS-PMP-18-03, P.O. Box 3755, Seattle, WA. 98124-3755. The can also be sent electronically to CENWS-AFDComments@usace.army.mil

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