Pend Oreille River Closed to Recreational Activities

The Pend Oreille County Sheriff’s Office has closed the Pend Oreille River to recreational activities due to safety concerns about extremely high river flows and flooding, as reported by KXLY. That order includes the reservoir at Seattle City Light’s Boundary Hydroelectric Project.

Closure means no boating, swimming or other activity is allowed on the river until further notice.

Anyone planning to visit Boundary or use its campground should check with the Sheriff’s Office for updates on access to the river.

For a look at the water flowing over the spillway at Boundary, watch this video from our Facebook page.

Boundary Hydroelectric Project Receives National Historical Recognition

Boundary Hydroelectric Project from its Vista House

For more than 50 years, the Boundary Hydroelectric Project has powered Seattle with its clean, hydropower. At 340 feet tall, the concrete double-curvature arch of Boundary Dam cuts an imposing figure on the Pend Oreille River in northeastern Washington. In January, City Light submitted an application to the Washington Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation for Boundary to the National Register of Historical Places. Today, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation determined that Boundary meets the National Register criteria.

“Determining the Boundary Project’s eligibility for the National Register is a requirement of our license to operate the dam, but to be listed on the National Register is an honor,” explains City Light’s Mike Aronowitz. “It’s confirmation that the history and design of Boundary deserve to be nationally recognized and preserved.”

The nomination will now be sent to the Keeper of the National Register within the National Park Service, who makes the final listing decision.



City Light announced its plan to acquire the Boundary Dam site and construct a hydroelectric power plant Oct. 27, 1953. On July 10, 1961, City Light was issued a license by the Federal Power Commission, granting the utility permission to utilize a section of the Pend Oreille River and construct Boundary Dam. Construction began in August 1963 by carving out 500,000 cubic yards of the limestone mountain to make way for the world’s largest underground powerhouse at the time. The machine hall, which houses the turbines that generate electricity, was excavated to be 477 feet long, 76 feet wide and 15 stories below the ground. The dam itself was built to an astounding 340 feet tall, 32 feet at its base and eight feet at its crest. The reservoir that retains the water from the Pend Oreille River is 1,794 acres and 17.5 miles long, roughly three times the size of Lake Union.

The 1,040-megawatt Boundary Hydroelectric Project (Boundary Project) impounds the Pend Oreille River in a rural canyon north of Metaline Falls, in Pend Oreille County (pronounced Pon-deh-RAY), Washington, and is owned and operated by Seattle City Light (City Light) under Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) License No. 2144. Completed with four generation units in 1967, the multi-component facility was built between 1963 and 1967 and consists of a concrete variable-radius, double curvature, thin arch dam, an underground powerhouse, the Vista House, and other support and recreation-related built resources as were developed during the original construction period. The overall nominated district covers 167 acres, all located within the larger boundary for the FERC license.

The Boundary Project is located at river mile 17 on the Pend Oreille River in a narrow canyon in the Selkirk Mountains, in northeastern Washington, about ten miles north of the Town of Metaline Falls and one mile south of the U.S.-Canada border. Boundary is a multi-component project occupying 167-acres within the larger licensed area, and is operated by Seattle City Light under FERC License No. 2144.1 The individual resources of the Boundary Project were designed by multiple engineering firms and architectural firms as detailed below, under the direction of Herbert V. Standberg, City Light’s project engineer, with Cr. Hoidal and Robert L. Skone providing, respectively, civil and electrical engineering oversight.
The Boundary Project is documented as a “district” which includes the dam, forebay, powerhouse, transmission line, Vista House, and related recreational and support structures, tied together by the original looped road system from the controlled access point at the end of Boundary Road.

In 2013, City Light was issued a new license to operate Boundary through 2055. With the new license comes several important recreation developments that will directly benefit the local community and promote economic development. Improvements are already underway at the Forebay Recreation Area. Other enhancements are slated for Metaline Waterfront Park in 2018, followed by two new spectacular viewing locations and a portage trail for kayakers around Metaline Falls in 2019. A new hiking trail on the east side of the reservoir will be added in 2020.

Seattle City (spot)Light: Bear Holter

Machinist Crew Chief Bear Holter has worked at City Light for 25 years. Currently, he oversees the hydroelectric maintenance at Boundary Dam. “We handle the mechanical maintenance at the powerhouse,” Bear explained. “Things like turbine overhauls and other mechanical work. We also maintain our mobile equipment and take care of the dam’s spillgates. There’s so much we do—we’re the jack of all trades.”

Born in Metaline Falls, Bear served in the Navy for four years doing welding, construction and working on submarines. His first position at City Light was a machinist specialist at Skagit. When he learned of an opening at Boundary, he applied for the transfer. “I always knew I wanted to get back to Boundary,” he said. “I remember the dam being built. My grandparents took me to it when I was a kid so it means a lot to me.”

Bear lives in Sullivan Lake with his wife, Lynn—their home sits behind the house in which Bear was raised! They’re active members of the community, including their alma mater, Selkirk High School, where Bear does announcing for sporting events. “I’m the voice of the Rangers!” he exclaimed. In this week’s (spot)Light, Bear talks about his career inspiration and life at Boundary.

Bear and Lynn at Frank Slide in British Columbia

“There are six of us on my team. One of the biggest jobs we’ve done was rebuilding a generator. We took the whole thing apart, piece by piece. We got it cleared down to the runner, which is the water wheel or the big thing that spins when the water hits it. When that comes out, we install seal rings to hold it in place. All the bearings get done. The rotor comes out. There are many steps, and, in the end, we put it all back together. It’s a big job that takes about one year to complete. It’s quite a deal.”

“I loved working at Skagit. My daughters grew up there, but I knew the only way I could get back to Boundary was as a machinist. I wanted to be an iron worker for the City, but the only opening at Boundary was taken by my brother, Randy! He was five years ahead of me so I knew I wouldn’t get to Boundary as an ironworker. I took up the machinist trade and went through the apprenticeship. In fact, I was the first City Light apprentice through the machinist program. When I learned of the machinist opening at Boundary, I went for it and, along the way, I became crew chief.”

“I wanted to get in the utility business because my dad was a lifer at Box Canyon Dam which is here locally. He spent 32 years there. It was good to our family so I figured it was a good line of work to get into. You can say he was my early source of inspiration. He also worked ten years here at Boundary.  Randy and I followed in his footsteps. In fact, Randy just celebrated 30 years with City Light.”

“Metaline Falls was a great place to grow up and I’m glad I returned. It has fishing, hunting and other outdoor recreation that I enjoy. Up at the dam, we’re a tight-knit group. We work hard together and it’s not uncommon to see each other around town. I just love that small-town feel.”

Boundary Cliff Inspection Tests Skills

Jeff Young, David Fairburn and Jared Campbell start to rapell down the rock face.

This Aug. 7, City Light inspected the rock face above the Boundary project’s transformer bays, to ensure that rocks and vegetation pose no major risks to the 240 kilovolt lines that extend from the transformers to the Boundary switchyard.

The work is highly specialized, requiring workers to scale the face using ropes and harnesses. The job was accomplished with a combined team from our contractor, the Boundary Technical Rescue Team (Jeff YoungDavid Fairburn and Jared Campbell) and a structural engineer from Seattle.

The view from the top of the rock face.