The National Marine Fisheries Service says Duke Energy's Catawba River hydroelectric dams won't snuff out two endangered fish species, inching Duke toward a new, 50-year license to manage the river.
An ancient species, sturgeon swim upriver to spawn but can't get past dams. The fisheries service estimates their adult spawning populations at only about 300 of each species.
Duke has agreed to start trapping two other migratory species, American shad and blueback herring, and truck them around its Wateree Dam in South Carolina by 2018. The trapping system isn't supposed to capture sturgeon.
Duke says it's reviewing the fisheries service opinion, which has been years in coming. But it still has to resolve legal issues in South Carolina.
The S.C. Court of Appeals ruled last December that state environmental officials had not missed a deadline to oppose a water-quality permit Duke also needs to renew the federal license. Duke asked the S.C. Supreme Court in June to review that ruling.
Once those issues are resolved, Catawba licensing manager Mark Oakley said last month, Duke expects the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to take about six months to review the license. If the review begins this summer, Duke could finally have its license in the first quarter of 2014.
Approval will unleash millions of dollars in recreational improvements and land conservation Duke promised in negotiating the license terms.