Snoqualmie Falls to get major upgrade

Snoqualmie Falls to get major upgrade »Play Video
SNOQUALMIE FALLS -- Snoqualmie Falls is a Northwest icon that generates "Oohs" and "Aahs!" from visitors.

"It's pretty unbelievable. I've never seen anything like it," said visitor Melissa Moser.

But Snoqualmie Falls also generates megawatts of power for Puget Sound Energy. The original power house lit up in 1898, with another joining it online 12 years later.

Now the company says it's time for a major upgrade.

PSE spokesman Paul Wiegand says one of the 1910 generators is still in use.

"This one will be taken out and replaced with a modern 2010 version, and eventually this entire building will be replaced with one nearly twice as big."

The first 1898 generators will be refurbished, but just about everything else will be replaced by new buildings similar to the historic power houses that do not meet current earthquake standards.

An old wooden bulkhead at the falls will also be removed, Wiegand said, and crews will also work on "pushing the shoreline back to its original configuration, widening the channel."

The dam at the top of the falls will be lowered by 2 feet, reducing the amount of water that backs up into town during a flood.

Kevin Runyon, a frequent visitor, worries about losing the historic feel of Snoqualmie Falls.

"It's heart-breaking, you know," he said. "They've been here so long."

But Wiegand says upgrades will help preserve the power-producing icon.

"This project has been an operating museum for over a hundred years, and now we have this great opportunity to continue its life for at least another 40 years," he said.

A big benefit of the upgrade will be a 20 percent boost in power output. But Runyon says he'll wait and see.

"As long as they keep it looking as natural and beautiful as they can keep it and still pull that off, then it might be worth it," he said.

Starting Tuesday, the lower part of the park will be closed for the next three years for construction.