CHARLESTON, S.C. - A U.S. District Court judge lifted an injunction Friday against running pump-back turbines to produce electricity at the Lake Russell Dam, the latest step in an environmental legal battle that started in 1988.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which built and runs the dam's hydroelectric plant, said the court agreed that the project met all requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act and should be allowed to operate.
"We are extremely pleased that the court has recognized that the Corps of Engineers has taken extraordinary steps to assure the environmental acceptability" of the turbines, said Jim Parker, chief of public affairs for the corps' Savannah District.
The National Wildlife Federation and its affiliations in Missouri and South Carolina, along with South Carolina's Natural Resources Department, sued 14 years ago after similar turbines killed thousands of fish at a dam in Missouri.
U.S. District Judge Falcon Hawkins let Georgia join the lawsuit two years ago.
A call to South Carolina's Natural Resources office Friday evening was not immediately returned.
The corps wants to use the four reversible turbines to pump water between lakes Russell and Thurmond along the Savannah River and create electricity at night with the water used during the day.
The plaintiffs won an injunction blocking the turbines' use until the corps showed they would not harm the environment.
In 1999, the corps asked that the injunction be lifted after $34 million in studies and fish protection measures proved the turbines could work safely.
The turbines would kill between 6 million and 12 million fish a year, but that represents less than 1 percent of Lake Thurmond's fish population and the numbers have no significant impact, the corps said.
But the plaintiffs said the study was completed in one seven-month period.
"This period cannot possibly address differing water years and conditions," the plaintiffs wrote in their suit.
The pumped storage will give more than $57.2 million a year in economic benefits to residents in the Southeast in lower energy costs, a corps official said.