Senate passes bill allowing Tribes to buy into Pelton Hydroelectric Project

The bill, sponsored by Oregon's two U.S. senators, is structured to protect Jefferson County's tax base
News Editor
   The U.S. Senate approved a bill Thursday that federally sanctions an agreement between the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs and Portland General Electric to share a joint federal power license for the Pelton/Round Butte Hydroelectric Project on the Deschutes River.
   Sponsored by Oregon Sens. Ron Wyden and Gordon Smith the bill approves the sale of 1/3 interest in the dams and the related hydroelectric generation capacity from PGE to the Confederated Tribes for approximately $30 million.
   The legislation now goes to President Bush for his signature.
   "This bill gives congressional approval to the historic agreement between the Warm Springs Tribe and PGE that will allow them to move forward on their plans for Pelton Dam," Smith said in a joint statement released by his office and Wyden's. "In addition, the bill protects the interests and concerns of Jefferson County by ensuring that the impact on its revenues will be minimal."
   PGE and the tribes entered a lease agreement in 1955 for the lands and resources used in the Pelton Hydroelectric Project. That agreement expires on Dec. 31, and the tribes will be co-developers as well as 1/3 owners beginning Jan. 1.
   The tribes intend to eventually own 51.01 percent of the project, but the agreement is structured to protect Jefferson County's tax base by allowing the tribes to buy into the project in increments.
   The revenue from taxes on the Pelton Hydroelectric Project represent 16 percent of Jefferson County's tax base. Once the Confederated Tribes own more than 50 percent, the property becomes tax-exempt.
   The Tribes have the option to buy 49.99 percent of the project by 2022 and 50.01 percent no later than 2037. Charles Jackson, Secretary-Treasurer of Warm Springs, said the Tribes will likely purchase controlling interest by 2032.
   "This is a prime example of working in the Oregon Way; stakeholders coming together to find a home-grown, creative solution to local issues," Wyden said in the statement. "I'm glad to have played a part in helping this agreement move forward."
   U.S. Congressman Greg Walden, R-Ore., who sponsored the House version of the bill that passed in October, applauded the Senate's quick approval.
   "This legislation represents a truly collaborative effort between every party affected by this purchase," he said in a statement. "It will have significant impact on economic development for the Warm Springs Tribe and, in turn, the entire region."
   The Confederated Tribes, PGE, and the Department of the Interior, acting as the Tribe's trustee, entered the agreement on the 440-megawatt project in April of 2000.
   The Tribes plan to use bonds to finance their $30 million initial purchase.
   The House and Senate bill was developed in close consultation with the Jefferson County Board of Commissioners. A side agreement, sanctioned by the bill, requires PGE to pay $2.1 million per year to Jefferson County for tax revenue it will lose when the dams leave private ownership and become the tax-exempt property of Warm Springs.