January 25, 2012 | LXXI, No. 43

Feds meet with school officials

School district and federal officials met last week to talk about federal impacts on local schools.

Grand Coulee Dam School District Superintendent Dennis Carlson met with Bureau of Reclamation Project Manager Mark Jenson and others last Thursday so the two parties could exchange views on the school position that work being done on the Third Powerhouse generators and on the John W. Keys III Pump-Generator Station impacts the school district.

While doing the Environmental Assessment for its Third Powerhouse upgrade, the Bureau of Reclamation neglected to consider the impact it might have on schools here and accordingly has now opened up a 45-day window for the district to gather and present information for the EA. That is due Feb. 12, and Carlson told school board members Monday evening that the district will submit information.

He also plans to submit information for the EA on the pump station project. The government is still collecting information for its Draft Environmental Assessment for that project.

Subsequently, in a letter to Keith McGowan, an environmental protection specialist for the USBR, Carlson writes: “It is clear that we agree the project (Pump Station) will result in an increased numbers of workers with a resulting increase in the number of students attending our schools.”

The Bureau has calculated that there might be as many as 19 new students as the result of contracted workers who come to the area for the pumping station work.

It has also been recorded that there could be as much as a 30-student increase identified with the Third Powerhouse upgrade project. The Bureau, in its assessment, had stated that the Third Powerhouse work would have no significant impact on schools.

“That’s a potential increase of nearly 50 students,” Carlson said. “We maintain that the impact could be greater than just the addition of 50 students. In some of our classes, like the third and fifth grades, a couple more students might force us to add a teacher (at a cost of $65,000, plus benefits).” Carlson also added that there isn’t space available in either Center Elementary or Grand Coulee Dam Middle School for additional classes.

“Then there’s the type of student,” Carlson added. “If there are special need students, that impacts the district differently.”

It isn’t clear, and hardly predictable, just how many students have already and will enter local schools during the decade-long work.

The Bureau opened up its assessment of impact after officials made their point that schools hadn’t been duly considered when the EA for the Third Powerhouse was developed. The school board last November asked Carlson to explore taking legal action against the Bureau. That apparently got the federal agency’s attention, and that’s when a special impact period was opened for school input.

Carlson told board members that a lawsuit is still an option, but he said he was “encouraged” by the willingness to discuss the issues with government officials.

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