Below is the text of a formal Protest lodged with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on January 7, 2019. All comments and protests are due in this FERC request by January 15th–coming at a time when key relicensing stakeholders including the National Marine Fisheries Service and US Fish and Wildlife Service are on furlough and unable to Comment…
Public comments to FERC in Washington DC on this proposal for these two “hydro” projects cited as: “P-2485” Northfield Mountain, and “P-1889” Turners Falls Project, can be entered at www.ferc.gov under “documents and filings” using their e-comment button on the menu. NOTE: You MUST include your NAME and contact info at the end of your comments.
Photo above is of the flow-starved Connecticut River at the Rock Dam in Turners Falls, critical spawning habitat for the federally endangered shortnose sturgeon, and a key upstream passage route for spawning run American shad. It was taken on May 13, 2018, at the exact time shortnose sturgeon require flow at this ancient site. The river is impoverished here by flows diverted at Turners Falls Dam, controlled by operators inside Northfield Mountain, a half dozen miles upstream. (NOTE: click, then click again, and AGAIN to enlarge photo. Photo Copyright 2018 by Karl Meyer. All Rights Reserved)
Karl Meyer, M.S. Environmental Science
91 Smith Street # 203
Greenfield, MA, 01301
413-773-0006 January 7, 2019
The Honorable Kimberly D. Bose, Secretary
Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
88 First Street, NE
Washington, DC 20426
PROTEST re: P-2485 and P-1889, to the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA BEFORE THE FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION.
Specifically, the FirstLight Hydro Generating Company, Project No. 2485- Northfield Mountain LLC) APPLICATION FOR APPROVAL OF TRANSFER OF LICENSE, SUBSTITUTION OF APPLICANT, AND REQUEST FOR EXPEDITED CONSIDERATION; and FirstLight Hydro Generating Company, Project No. 1889, FirstLight MA Hydro LLC ) APPLICATION FOR APPROVAL OF TRANSFER OF LICENSE, SUBSTITUTION OF APPLICANT, AND REQUEST FOR EXPEDITED CONSIDERATION
Dear Secretary Bose,
I write to protest the request of FirstLight Hydro Generating Company for transfer of license, substitution of applicant, and request for expedited consideration filed with the FERC on December 20, 2018 for these two FirstLight Hydro Generating Company projects. I have been a participating Stakeholder in the FERC ILP relicensing proceedings for P-1889 and P-2485 since 2012. I serve on the Fish and Aquatics Studies Team for both projects and have been in attendance with fellow Stakeholders at all relevant FERC ILP meetings and consultations since that time.
Since its initial application in 2012, FirstLight has requested that all aspects of this ILP be predicated on its desire and application for a merged, single license for the Turners Falls and Northfield Mountain Projects. That requested configuration and understanding for license conditioning and requirements was thus accepted by all parties from the outset. FL’s formal submission was met with few objections. It has been the de facto understanding of all Stakeholders–and FERC, since the ILP process began over 6 years ago. Since that request in their initial filings, all parties have worked in good faith under their requested parameters, largely because of the common understanding that these operations have always been integrated.
Both FL projects operate and are controlled from a central location, in tandem, coordinating their adjacent peaking production units along a short, eight mile section of the Connecticut River. They have been running, thus, as a single entity for a quarter century. As witness to how the projects are a coordinating unit, Anne Harding, Compliance Administrator for FirstLight Power Resources wrote in the November 1, 2016, issue of HydroWorld, “The Northfield Mountain control room operators began to remotely operate the units at Cabot Station in the 1990s. In addition, the bascule gates on Montague Dam and head gates at the gatehouse are operated from Northfield Mountain.” (See https://www.hydroworld.com/articles/hr/print/volume-35/issue-9/articles/62-mw-cabot-station-retains-much-of-its-1916-equipment.html ) Hence, this eight mile reach of river is indeed the single, integrated unit that FirstLight applied for a single, new ILP license for back in 2012.
Given these facts, and that all relicensing studies and consults have been predicated on their formal application requests through a process that has stretched over more than half a decade, it would be improper—and likely legally suspect, to change all the parameters of these highly regulated FERC ILP procedures at this time. If FERC were to allow this request, Stakeholders would thus have to undertake new studies under new operational assumptions, and ultimately have to enter into two-track negotiations with two separate, new entities–if new settlement agreements were to be undertaken. Most confounding at this late date—half a year after the current licenses have had to be extended, all ILP studies would have to be re-evaluated, or redone, in terms of different parameters and assumptions, stemming from FL new contentions that their coordinated operations are separate, unlinked entities.
This is a highly suspect maneuver. It smacks of bad faith bargaining since the time Canada’s PSP Investments purchased these FL projects in 2016. Further, witness that FirstLight’s Mr. Doug Bennett, Plant General Manager, Northfield Mountain/Turners Falls Projects. made a request of FERC Commissioner Neil Chatterjee (as well as now-disgraced former EPA Chief Scott Pruitt) to discuss a trio of issues that could impact FirstLight’s future market prospects under a new license back on January 30, 2018. Both officials were later to visit in tandem on February 14, 2018–but FERC first had to respond and make an obvious point in response to Mr. Bennett on January 30, 2018, noting that acceding to these requests would violate FERC ex parte rules, and Commissioner Chatterjee could hence not discuss any of the proposed topics.
At this late stage in the ILP process, good faith and procedure would dictate that FERC now reject FirstLight Hydro’s request to reconfigure this monolithic relicensing to their unfounded contention that these are not a single, integrated entity—one intricately coordinated to maximize output and profitability along an 8 mile segment of the Connecticut River.
Further, due to the current partial Federal Government shutdown, key federal agencies, experts, and Stakeholders are on furlough, and cannot participate or weigh-in on the merits of this 12th hour request. You cannot expedite a process when the participants are barred from the proceedings.
I thus formally protest FirstLight’s requests to separate this singular operation into two individual LLCs, and ask that FERC deny the transfer of these licenses at this time; and deny any substitution of new applicants until this ILP is complete. Further, I contend that any request for expedited consideration is unwarranted and patently unsupportable given the absence of key stakeholders. Unites States federal Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act, federal trust fish, and inter-agency coordination statutes are integral to this ILP on a four-state river that is the centerpiece of the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge. These laws and tenets must be respected and abided-by wherever international ownership comes into question.
Lastly, I formally request Intervener Status in FERC P-2485 and P-1889 at this time.
Thank you for your careful attention to these matters.
Karl Meyer, M.S.
Cc: Marc Silver, FirstLightpower
Copyright © 2018 by Karl Meyer. All Rights Reserved
Eight years ago, almost to the day, this is how the Connecticut River in front of the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage intake looked. (Click, then Click twice more)
The owners were under sanction from the EPA and had been scrambling for months to suction the mountain of reservoir silt they’d illegally dumped directly into the Connecticut after massively botching their reservoir de-watering and clean-out.Northfield remained inoperable from May 1st through early November. To minimize the reactivation of silt they’d already fouled the river with, they set up a ponderously long silt curtain–supposed to keep their gunk in place. Below, is how their silt-safety set-up looked on July 20, 2010 (Click, the Click twice more)
However, if you look at how effectively that sanctioned-solution was when employed-by–and deployed by the company, you would have to look at this photo below from October 2, 2010. (Click, then Click twice)
The sole solution FirstLight has proposed in these FERC proceedings to prevent the suctioning deaths of millions of juvenile shad–and that’s disregarding their round-the-year evisceration of adult and young fish of dozens of species, is to place a barrier net across the mouth of their giant suction and slice pumped storage contraption. This, for the next several decades, would be like putting a band-aid on a massively severed artery. If they couldn’t keep a net in place in the river when Northfield was sanctioned NOT pumping at all, what gives anyone the idea that this bit of window dressing will be of any service to a broken river system at all.
Since FirstLight is proposing to suck more water out of the river to suck into that reservoir, why not trade that money-making scheme for having NFMT shut down at key seasons to comply with the law and protect the Public Trust.
In delivering the 1872 Supreme Court’s decision in Holyoke Company vs. Lyman, Justice Nathan Clifford entered the following into his decision:
“Ownership of the banks and bed of the stream, as before remarked, gives to the proprietor the exclusive right of fishery, opposite his land, as well as the right to use the water to create power to operate mills, but neither the one nor the other right nor both combined confer any right to erect obstructions in the river to prevent the free passage of the fish up and down the river at their accustomed seasons.”
In deciding against the dam owners who had repeatedly refused to construct fish passage at their dam as settled law in the Commonwealth had long required, the Court made upstream and downstream passage of the public’s fish a precedent and legal right in rivers throughout the United States.
“Fish rights below a dam, constructed without passageways for the fish, are liable to be injured by such a structure as well as those owned above the dam, as the migratory fish, if they cannot ascend to the head waters of the stream at their accustomed seasons will soon cease to frequent the stream at all, or in greatly diminished numbers.”
Copyright © 2018 by Karl Meyer All Rights Reserved.
NOTE: the following piece appeared in VTDigger, www.vtdigger.org in September under the heading “Clean, renewable” labels don’t apply when crippling an ecosystem.”
TERMS OF ENTRAINMENT: a Connecticut River History
NOTE:in this photo are over 170 juvenile shad, among the many thousands killed in the recent de-watering of the Turners Falls Power Canal. The power canal is where the bulk of the Connecticut River is diverted into for most months of the year. So, when they drain it, they are killing the river. However, if you look at this photo and multiply that death toll by 10,000 you begin to get some idea of the mortality counts for young-of-the-year shad entrained annually–and un-tallied across nearly five decades, at the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station. (CLICK, then CLICK twice more to enlarge photos.)
At 2:41 p.m. on May 20, 2018, a lone blueback herring appeared in the windows at Turners Falls Dam among a school of larger American shad. It was a small miracle. Barely a foot long, it was the first blueback here since 2005, and there would not be another this spring. Like those shad, its life had already spanned four springs, swimming thousands of ocean miles in shimmering schools. It re-crossed bays and estuaries of seven states and two provinces before reaching this Connecticut River juncture. In doing so it had survived sprawling drift nets and repeated attacks from sharks, bluefish, spiny dogfish, cormorants, seals and striped bass.
All these fish were seeking to spawn and give their young a head start as far upriver as currents, time and temperature would allow. Unfortunately, five miles upstream sat the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station, a river vacuuming machine capable of out-killing all their natural predators. For the next 20 miles they’d be vulnerable to its impacts.
NMPS has inhaled river fish of all species and sizes daily for nearly half a century. Results from a river sampling study Juvenile Shad Assessment in the Connecticut River, were released in June by the US Fish & Wildlife Service and MA Division of Fisheries & Wildlife. They estimated NMPS’s 2017 operations resulted in losses of some 15 million shad eggs and larvae, plus the deaths of between 1 and 2-1/2 million juvenile shad. That’s for just one species.
On April 20, 1967, years before Northfield was built, federal agencies and four states signed the Statement of Intent for a Cooperative Fishery Restoration Program for the Connecticut River, agreeing to restore runs of American shad, salmon and blueback herring upstream to Bellows Falls, Vermont and beyond. The migratory shortnose sturgeon had already been listed as endangered. Continuing today under Public Law 98-138, its mandate requires utilization of “the full potential of the fishery resources of the Connecticut River including both anadromous and resident species,” providing “high quality sport fishing,” and meeting “the long term needs of the population for seafood.”
American shad are still commercially fished today just 60 miles downriver. They’ve provided seafood to this valley for ages, yet most people in Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts don’t know they were promised a “just share of the fishery harvest” back in 1967. All remain without, while shad continue to grace dinner and restaurant tables in Connecticut every spring.
Running on imported power via the buy-low/sell-high model, Northfield can suck the river into reverse for up to a mile downstream. It devours everything captured in that vortex at 15,000 cubic feet per second. Think 15,000 milk crates, for hours, to fill a 5 billion gallon mountain reservoir. The result is 100% mortality for all fish entrained. During peak-use and/or peak-price times—or both, it sends the deadened water back through its turbines as twice-produced electricity.
NOTE: more of the TF Canal kill here in another location–including mostly juvenile shad, but also a bluegill, several mud-puppies, and a young sea lamprey. Again, this is just a whisper of the year round fish kill occurring upstream at Northfield Mountain.
Northfield was built to run off Vermont Yankee’s excess nuclear megawatts. But even after VY closed in 2014, its carnage continued, unchallenged, rather than being relegated to emergency use. Having never produced a watt of its own power, its 46 years of accumulating carnage are yet to be tallied. That herring might have been heading for New Hampshire’s Ashuelot or Vermont’s Saxtons River, and those shad were perhaps steering for the Great Eddy at Bellows Falls. Regardless, any progeny would later face Northfield’s net-loss-power impacts heading downriver come fall.
Currently it pumps mostly at night when Canadian owners PSP Investments can purchase cheap electricity to suction the river uphill. Later it’s released as second-hand juice at peak-of-the-day profits. Promoters claim the benefits of dispersed solar and wind power can’t be realized without first relaying their renewable energy across the region to this lethal storage machine for later resale in markets far beyond the Connecticut Valley. “Clean, renewable” labels don’t apply when crippling an ecosystem.
NMPS boosters include (now-former) EPA Director Scott Pruitt, who made a sweetheart visit there last Valentine’s Day along with Federal Energy Regulatory Commissioner Neil Chatterjee. That occurred as PSP was requesting to suction yet more water from the Connecticut and applying for a new long-term FERC license. The next day FERC announced a major policy shift, potentially increasing both Northfield’s daytime use and its profits.
Since an 1872 landmark Supreme Court ruling indemnifying Holyoke Dam, all hydro facilities have been required to safely pass the public’s fish, upstream and down. But that 1967 agreement had this warning: “Based on the present fragmentary data available on the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Project, it appears that this project poses definite limitations to an anadromous fish restoration program. These limitations involve the physical loss of eggs, larvae and young fish of both resident and anadromous species, and an orientation problem for both upstream and downstream migrants attributed to pumping large volumes of water.” Today the 20 mile reach hosting Northfield remains a migration minefield—while some 30 miles of open Vermont/New Hampshire spawning habitat above Vernon Dam sits essentially empty.
Holyoke Dam has annually lifted hundreds of thousands of shad and herring upstream since the 1970s. In 2017 it recorded its second highest shad numbers ever, 537,000 fish. Each spring, half or more of those shad attempt to pass Turners Falls. Less than 10-in-100 will succeed. Of those, some 50% drop from tallies and are never re-counted at Vernon Dam after entering the 20 miles impacted by Northfield. The blueback herring record at Turners Falls was 9,600 in 1986, out of the 517,000 counted 36 miles downstream at Holyoke that year. Of those 9,600 Turners herrings, just 94 reached Vernon Dam. Turners Falls saw another 7,500 blueback herring in 1991; just 383 reappeared upstream at Vernon.
Any new long-term FERC license must comply with federal and state law protecting endangered and public-trust fish. In seeking a new license, PSP’s main proposal for limiting Northfield’s massive carnage has been the test-anchoring of a few yards of Kevlar netting in the riverbed in front of the plant’s suction-and-surge tunnel. Those flag-sized yards of mesh, after a few months deployment, are supposed to effectively model how a 1,000 foot-long “exclusion net”–deployed seasonally in the river over the next decades, might halt the entrainment deaths of out-migrating adult–and millions of juvenile young-of-the year fish, heading back to the sea. Presumably, Northfield’s mouth would remain wide open to the ecosystem’s fish throughout the rest of the year.
In light of longstanding research the US Fish & Wildlife Service, Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission and Connecticut River Atlantic Salmon Commission have set shad passage goals requiring that a minimum of 397,000 pass Turners Falls; and a minimum of 226,000 pass Vernon Dam. It’s a certainty that a new fish lift will be required at Turners Falls under any new license, modeled on the long-term success of Holyoke’s lifts. But the ultimate question is this: can Northfield comply with federal and state law protecting the four-state ecosystem’s fish in order to be granted a new FERC license?
Karl Meyer has been a stakeholder and member of the Fish and Aquatics Study Team in the current FERC relicensing process for the Northfield Mountain and Turners Falls projects since 2012. He is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists.
Copyright © 2018 by Karl Meyer, All Rights Reserved
Greenfield, MA September 20, 2018. A Greenfield fuel oil spill early Thursday morning extended for nearly a half mile from the ridgetop on Turners Falls Road downhill to the bridge over the Connecticut River and beyond the Green Bridge over the Turners Falls Canal into the Village of Turners Falls. Greenfield DPW members had spread absorbent sand and an officer was warning vehicle operators and cyclists to use caution. But as of 9:00 a.m., no environmental cleanup outfit was on site.
Meanwhile, in the Turners Falls Power Canal many thousands of dead fish remained visible four days after the annual de-watering of the canal–which essentially gets substituted for the main channel of the Connecticut River’s Dead Reach most months of the year. Hundreds of fish were still panicked and dying in the remaining pools in the canal bed. Among the carnage were also mud puppies, tiny sea lamprey, and thousands of freshwater clams. (CLICK, then CLICK again, and AGAIN to enlarge photos)
ONE LAST CHANCE FOR THE CONNECTICUT RIVER
Copyright © 2018, by Karl Meyer. All Rights Reserved.
Empty CT River bed below Turners Falls Dam on September 2, 2018 (CLICK, then CLICK AGAIN, to ENLARGE)
Northfield MA. On Wednesday, September 5, 2018, New England gets one final chance for a restored Connecticut River ecosystem, promised by federal and state fisheries agencies way back in 1967. That’s the day when the National Marine Fisheries Service, US Fish & Wildlife Service and MA Division of Fisheries & Wildlife meet at the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Project for precedent-setting, backroom settlement negotiations to decide the ultimate fate of this ecosystem–long-crippled by the impacts of Northfield’s river-suctioning, power re-generation. They will be representing the public on behalf of New England’s Great River against the interests of FirstLight/PSP Investments of Canada, latest venture capital owners of NMPS. Future generations deserve the living river system promised here long ago.
Closed river gates at Turners Falls Dam, September 2, 2018. (CLICK, the CLICK AGAIN to ENLARGE)
The last time similar negotiations took place was in the 1970s when the agencies misplaced their priorities and Northfield’s nuclear-powered (NMPS was built to run off the excess megawatts produced by the now-closed Vermont Yankee nuclear plant, 15 miles upstream) assault on the river was ignored, scuttling prospects for a river restoration in Vermont, New Hampshire, and northern Massachusetts. Those negotiations led to federal fish hatcheries and ladders for an extinct salmon strain, leaving miles of the Connecticut emptied of flow in Massachusetts, while all migratory shad, blueback herring and lamprey were forced into the industrial labyrinth of the Turners Falls power canal. That also succeeded in leaving the federally-endangered Connecticut River shortnose sturgeon with no protections at all on its critical spawning ground.
Worst of all back then, the agencies failed to protect migratory and resident fish from the year-round deadly assault of NMPS, which sucks the river backward and uphill at 15,000 cubic feet per second. Its vortex can actually yank the Connecticut’s flow into reverse for up to a mile downstream, pulling everything from tiny shad eggs to juvenile fish and adult eels into its turbines on a certain-death Northfield Mountain Sleigh Ride. A USFWS study found that Northfield killed up to 15 million American shad eggs and swallowed between 1 – 2-1/2 million juvenile shad in 2017.
Northfield’s Canadian owners are seeking a new, generations-long operating license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The relicensing process has now completed its 6th year, with the serious work of safeguarding New England’s largest ecosystem just now coming into focus. This plant is an energy consumer, and has never produced a single watt of its own energy. It’s a bulk-grid power storage and transfer station that can only run for about 6 hours full tilt before it is completely spent and dead in the water. Then, it must go out and suck new virgin power from the bulk grid to begin refilling its reservoir with deadened river water. Its regenerated power is marketed and resold to entities far beyond the borders of the Connecticut River Valley.
New Hampshire, Vermont and Massachusetts have a lot a stake here. Way back in 1967 they were promised a just share of a restored seafood harvest of American shad, all the way upstream to Bellows Falls VT and Walpole NH. Safe passage of fish, upstream and down, has been mandated on US rivers since a 1872 Supreme Court case. But no meaningful runs of shad and blueback herring ever materialized upstream of the brutal industrial impacts and flows created at Northfield Mountain and Turners Falls Dam. In 1967 when these agencies signed that Cooperative Fisheries Restoration agreement, 750,000 American shad was the target for passage above Vernon Dam to wide-open Vermont and New Hampshire habitats. The best year, 1991, saw just 37,000 fish.
Northfield’s giant Intake and Entrainment Tunnel (CLICK, then CLICK AGAIN to ENLARGE)
As for those shortnose sturgeon? Well, investigations continue to see if there is a remnant of this river’s population surviving upstream near Vernon. But, in Massachusetts their protection from interference and guaranteed spawning access and flows should have been enforced decades back in the 2-1/2 miles below PSP’s Turners Falls dam. But none of the federal and state agencies took action.
And here, the only non-profit river groups on the Connecticut have long been power-company-friendly and connected–and still accepting their corporate money. Other major river systems have watchdogs without ties to the corporations that cripple them–putting staff lawyers and their enforcement commitments and responsibilities front and center. These go to court repeatedly–the only method leading to lasting, meaningful results. Here, no one takes corporations to court for license violations or requirements under the Endangered Species Act or Clean Water Act. Others might have led a campaign to shut down an ecosystem killing plant the day the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant shut down forever in December 2014.
4-barrel floats above a few yards of experimental test netting that’s supposed to emulate how a 1000 foot-long net might be deployed seasonally over the coming decades to keep millions of baby fish from going on a Northfield Mountain Sleigh Ride. (CLICK, then CLICK AGAIN to ENLARGE)
Thus, it is really is now-or-never time on for a living Connecticut River ecosystem. So, the big question is: are the key agencies going to stand firm under federal and state environmental statute and law, and fulfill their mandate on behalf of future generations?
Here are some of the key questions to be decided at the table that will ultimately tell the four-state Connecticut River ecosystem’s future:
Can Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station—which literally kills millions of fish annually, be operated in such a way that it complies with long-standing federal and state environmental law in order to receive a new FERC license?
Will the US Fish & Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries require PSP’s operations to cease during critical times in the spawning cycles of the river’s fish—and only operate as an emergency power source at those times, rather than as a net-power loss, buy-low/sell high profit machine? (This happens on other river systems.)
Will National Marine Fisheries require the necessary 6,500 cubic feet per second flows now absent below Turners Falls Dam—from April through June, to protect the federally endangered shortnose sturgeon in its critical spawning ground?
Will the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries & Wildlife at last stand up for river protections in that same 2-1/2 miles of beleaguered river to safeguard over a dozen threatened and endangered plant, fish and aquatic species?
Will the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts protect the full spawning cycle of the shortnose sturgeon by barring all rafts and watercraft from landing on any of the islands in this stretch—and banning all disembarking in the critical Rock Dam Pool spawning area to safeguard young fish, rare plants and freshwater clams?
In deference to recognized New England Native American Peoples, will Massachusetts’s Natural Heritage Program leaders, the Massachusetts Historical Commission and the US Fish & Wildlife ban access to the Connecticut River islands in that embattled 2-1/2 mile reach, where several Tribes have a documented presence and ancient connection to these extremely sensitive sites?
Ultimately, the questions that will soon be answered are these:
Does the river belong to the corporation, or to the people?
Do endangered species matter?
Do ecosystems matter?
Do federal and state environmental laws matter?
And, finally: DO RIVERS MATTER?
Coming generations may soon have their answers on the Connecticut River.
Karl Meyer has been a stakeholder and member of the Fish and Aquatics Study Team in the current FERC relicensing process for the Northfield Mountain and Turners Falls projects since 2012. He is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists. Due to the non-disclosure agreements requested to take part in these private meetings with PSP Investments, he is not participating in these closed-door settlement discussions. The public is entitled to know.
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