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US$4.5M settles Seattle dispute

Seattle City Light (SCL) of Seattle, Washington, is to pay nearly US$4.5 M to help settle a long-running legal dispute between an Indian tribe and the operator of a hydroelectric dam in the northeast corner of the US state.

The case dates to 1980, when the Kalispel tribe sued the Pend Oreille County Utility District (POCUD) for flooding nearly 10 miles of tribal shoreline, with water impounded by the Box Canyon dam. After losing a l6-year legal battle with the tribe, POCUD filed a separate action against SCL, arguing that the city utility bought most of the power from the dam and therefore should pay most of the approximate US$3M judgment. A state appeals court agreed with POCUD, despite SCL’s contention it had no control over how the dam was operated. SCL has also agreed to contribute an additional US$1.5M to POCUD as part of a separate agreement with the tribe to continue using the flooded land for the next three years.

Located about 15 miles from the Canadian and Idaho border, the dam was built in 1956, raising the level of the Pend Oreille river several feet and flooding Kalispel reservation land. The federal government filed suit on behalf of the Kalispels, arguing that by flooding the shoreline the dam project was trespassing on tribal land. The case touched off a slew of suits, countersuits and appeals that ended up in the 9th US Court of Appeals in San Francisco. For nearly four decades SCL purchased about 80%of the power produced by Box Canyon. It has since drastically reduced the amount.