July 2021

Monthly Archive

Connecticut River blog: source of a salmon sham; how the public can steer a river’s future

Posted by on 21 Jul 2021 | Tagged as: 5-year FERC licensing process, Brian Harrington, Catherine Carlson, climate change, Connecticut River Atlantic Salmon Commission, Connecticut River ecosystem, Connecticut River migratory fisheries restoration, Conte National Fish & Wildlife Refuge, CRASC, Daniel McKiernan, David Cameron, Donna Wieting, E-Comments, Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, Eversource, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, federal trust fish, FERC, FERC Comments, FERC Commissioner Richard Glick, FERC Secretary Kimberly D. Bose, FirstLight, FirstLight Power, Gordon van Welie, Holyoke Co. v Lyman, ISO-NEW ENGLAND, Jesse Leddick, Julie Crocker, Kathleen Theoharides, Kimberly D. Bose, Landmark Supreme Court Decision 1872, Local Bias, MA Division of Fish and Wildlife, Massachusetts DEP, Massachusetts Division of Fish & Wildlife, National Marine Fisheries Service, National Marine Fisheries Service, New Hampshire, NMFS, NOAA, Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Project, P-1889, P-2485, Peter Brandien, Public Comment period, Public Sector Pension Investments, Rock Dam, Sam Lovejoy, Sean McDermott, shad, shortnose sturgeon, Silvio O. Conte Connecticut River National Fish and Wildlife Refuge, Steven Mattocks, Timothy L. Timmermann, Turners Falls, US Fish & Wildlife Service, Vermont, Wendi Weber

Connecticut River blog: source of a salmon sham; how the public can steer a river’s future Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer

Kathleen Theoharides, Massachuetts’ Secretary of the Executive Office of Energy & Environmental Affairs before launching on a PR kayak tour of the river at FirstLight’s dock next to the intake of the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Project, October 2020. Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer

NOTE: as a journalist and citizen I’ve been a participating stakeholder for nearly a decade in the ongoing Federal Energy Regulatory Commission relicensing process for the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Project and Turners Falls/Cabot hydro operations. In that light, I encourage people to first view the half-hour segment of Local Bias, linked below. Then, return to this post and its resource list below for ways to participate in the critical decisions now being made about the Connecticut River. They will impact its currently crippled ecosystem for generations to come.

LOCAL BIAS link: https://youtu.be/IX2Rv2NYq3s

Since 1872 the US Supreme Court has made it the law of the land that migratory fish on US Rivers are guaranteed safe upstream and downstream passage at dams and industrial river sites. That decision was centered on a Massachusetts case at the Holyoke Dam. One hundred forty-nine years later that law remains essentially unfulfilled at an endangered species’ critical spawning and nursery site on the Connecticut River at Montague, MA, as well as at the Turners Falls Dam in that town.

Further, that law remains glaringly unenforced and unimplemented at the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Project in Northfield MA, where the river is literally sucked into reverse, and millions of eggs and downstream running juvenile American shad are pulled to their “functional extirpation”(vacuumed to their deaths) yearly, on their way to the ocean from Vermont and New Hampshire spawning reaches. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has now owed Vermont and New Hampshire—and really all of New England, a living river for almost exactly a century and a half.

Warning sign announcing the dangers of Northfield’s massive intake suction. Photo Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer

The current Canadian parent-owners of that net-loss power regeneration/resale site are proposing only an ineffective, seasonal “barrier net” at the vacuum mouth of this facility, the very ‘solution’ that leaves this monstrous sucking in place to kill all those Vermont and New Hampshire produced eggs and baby shad, crippling the prospects for returning adult shad to those states from the Atlantic four years in the future.

The donuts and coffee were on FirstLight for the state officials and representatives taking part in last October’s little PR kayak tour. Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer

Northfield Mountain’s net-power-loss energy consumption literally swallows and squanders the entire annual energy equivalents of whole cities and counties as it ravages the Connecticut River, using it as a crushing and deadly energy relay switch.

FirstLight is applying to FERC—backed up by a power-hungry, ecosystem-and-climate-indifferent ISO-New England, for a license to kill for decades to come. Northfield Mountain wastes monstrous amounts of grid energy, while ravaging New England’s critical main ocean connection and planetary cooling artery…

Below are resources available to the public for interacting and participating with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in licensing decisions, and government agency officials charged with implementing the public trust on the Connecticut River.

www.karlmeyerwriting.com/blog

NOTE: the landmark US Supreme Court environmental decision centered on the Connecticut River came back in 1872 in Holyoke Company v. Lyman, requiring safe up- and down-stream protection for migratory fish.

Send public comments on relicensing of the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Project and Turners Falls/Cabot Hydro Stations to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The “project numbers” must be included, as well as your name and address, in order to become part of the public record. They should be concise, citing specifics in a paragraph or two, noting Northfield Mountain P-2485 and Turners Falls/Cabot P-1889.

Send via www.ferc.gov, usingE-comment, with the salutation going to: “Kimberly D. Bowles, Secretary.” Those comments can also include a cc to the current chair of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission: Richard Glick.

Decisions concerning foreign interests and use of the Connecticut River are happening at this time, and the river in Massachusetts has sat largely emptied or dead here for half a century—a situation enabled by the Commonwealth and its officials’ enduring, ugly and pointed environmental neglect.

To gain effect, letters can be cc’d to federal-and-state officials who are the vested stakeholders representing the public in the protection of the river and resources. Those publicly recorded FERC entries can also be forwarded to local newspapers and media outlets.

LIST of executives–plus officials from federal and state agencies who represent the public in protecting the Connecticut, its migratory fish, aquatic animals and habitats through their “conditioning authority” powers:

ENERGY executives in the private/quasi-public sphere:

Mr. Gordon van Welie, President and CEO, ISO-New England, the “independent” system operator:
Phone (413) 540-4220

Mr. Peter Brandien, Vice President of System Operations, ISO-New England:

E-mail: pbrandien@iso-ne.com .

NOTE: Mr. Brandien writes the annual support letter that facilitates the daily commercial damage to the Connecticut wrought by the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Project. ISO has never acknowledged to the public that NMPS is NOT essential to the DAILY functioning of the power grid. Instead it encourages and shackles the public to those peak-priced, daily ravages as NMPS is handsomely paid to hold back several hours of reserve emergency-function megawatts for ISO’s 20th Century bulk power grid in case of a rare blackout (like the one in 2003), and also for occasional use–at scattered intervals, in controlling grid fluctuations.

ISO should have ago been curtailed as a functionary for private mega power interests. Today’s grid should already be based on distributed generation and micro-grid functions in this time of climate chaos and cyber crime. Energy and storage should be located nearest to where it is produced and used. Future linking of river-ravaging NMPS to 200-mile-distant wind turbines is wholly criminal when compressed air storage can be located close to metro/industrial coastal centers—including implementation at sites like Everett, Somerset, New Bedford, and elsewhere. That would render the system resilient, local and detachable–and rescue New England’s Connecticut River ecosystem to support generations to come across the next half century.

But, today and into the future, counter to Holyoke Co. v. Lyman, , ISO will happily sell off a US ecosystem’s daily life to foreign venture capital interests, keeping NMPS in lucrative daily play for decades into the future. The bottom line function of ISO-New England—forget ecosystems and climate, is apparently commercial first, and foremost. In their own words: to “protect the health of the region’s economy and the well-being of its people by ensuring the constant availability of competitively-priced wholesale electricity—today and for future generations.” They love to employ the term “clean”, but never elaborate on glaring incongruities, fallacies or impacts. Future generations apparently will have no need of living ecosystems, just an endless stream of “competitively-priced” energy. They NEVER mention energy CONSERVATION…

FEDERAL PUBLIC officials:

For endangered Connecticut River shortnose sturgeon, freshwater mussels, as well as American shad, blueback herring and American eel:
Donna Wieting, Director of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service, NOAA Fisheries:
Phone: 301-427-8400

Also, for endangered shortnose sturgeon, as well as American shad, blueback herring and American eels: Mr. Sean Mcdermott, Greater Atlantic Region Fisheries Office, National Marine Fisheries Service, Gloucester, MA 01930:

E-mail: Sean.mcdermott@noaa.gov

Also at NMFS, protecting shortnose sturgeon and their habitat: Ms. Julie Crocker, Greater Atlantic Region Fisheries Office, National Marine Fisheries Service, Gloucester, MA 01930:

E-mail: Julie.crocker@noaa.gov

For federal protection and enforcement of the Clean Water Act on the Connecticut River: Mr. Timothy L. Timmermann Office of Environmental Review, EPA New England Region 1, Boston MA 02109-3912:

E-mail: timmermann.timothy@epa.gov

For all migratory fish and safe passage on the Connecticut including American shad, herring, and endangered sturgeon: Wendi Weber, US Fish & Wildlife Service Region 5, Hadley MA 01035:

E-mail: wendi_weber@usfws.gov

MASSACHUSETTS state officials:

Kathleen Theoharides, Secretary of the MA Executive Office of Energy & Environmental Affairs 100 Cambridge St., Suite 900, Boston, MA 02114:
Main Phone at (617) 626-1000

For Massachusetts clean water and wetland habitat protections on the Connecticut: Mr. Brian Harrington, Bureau of Water Resources Deputy Regional Director, Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, 436 Dwight Street, Springfield MA 01103:

E-mail: Brian.d.harrington@state.ma.us

Also from MA DEP: Mr. David Cameron, PWS Section Chief, Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, 436 Dwight St., Springfield, MA 01103:

E-mail: David.cameron@state.ma.us

For state-endangered shortnose sturgeon and all Connecticut River migratory fish in MA: Mr. Jesse Leddick, Chief of Regulatory Review, Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, 1 Rabbit Hill Rd., Westborough MA 01581:

E-mail: Jesse.Leddick@mass.gov

Also at MA Div. of Fish & Wildlife: Mr. Steven Mattocks, Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, Fisheries, 1 Rabbit Hill Rd., Westborough MA 01581:

E-mail: steven.mattocks.@mass.gov

Connecticut River blog: portage parade a quagmire of mixed motives

Posted by on 15 Jul 2021 | Tagged as: Andrew Fisk, Bellows Falls VT, Connecticut River Atlantic Salmon Commission, Connecticut River Conservancy, Connecticut River ecosystem, Connecticut River Watershed Council, Conte National Fish & Wildlife Refuge, CRASC, CRC, Dead Reach, Deerfield River, Eversource, FirstLight, FirstLight Power, Landmark Supreme Court Decision 1872, New Hampshire, Northeast Utilities, Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Project, NU/WMECO, portage parade, PSP Investments, public trust, Rock Dam, Silvio O. Conte Connecticut River National Fish and Wildlife Refuge, State of Delaware, Turners Falls, United State Supreme Court, Vermont

Connecticut River blog: portage parade a quagmire of mixed motives.

Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer


It was a little four-boat affair at Turners Falls on July 10, 2021. Photo Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer

On Saturday, July 10, 2021, Dr. Andy Fisk, Chair of the Connecticut River Atlantic Salmon Commission (CRASC), stood alongside a lawyer on the banks of the Connecticut River in the Village of Turners Falls in Montague MA. That lawyer was not an employee of the Connecticut River Conservancy, which Fisk also directs (that 69 year old organization has never had a staff lawyer), and this was not a gathering about salmon (the last natural run of salmon occurred on the Connecticut in 1809), or any of the endangered or federal trust fish in this tiny, embattled ecosystem reach they were here to highlight. The Connecticut River Watershed Council (today d.b.a. The Connecticut River Conservancy) had brought along Bob Nasdor of American Whitewater. That recreation organization’s crash-helmet-attired attorney and legal advocate was here as part of a CRC press conference and their touted public “portage parade.”

This, just upstream of the Turners Falls Dam, was an event aimed at getting scheduled flow releases from Canada-own FirstLight, and more water, plus an easy access path past the dam for joy-riding paddlers and rafters seeking a chance to dive into the most impoverished, endangered, historic and biologically sensitive 2-1/2 miles in the entire Connecticut River ecosystem.

As parades go, it hardly made a splash. Ultimately around two dozen people assembled, though fully half were CRC staff, family members, and CRC’s handful of invited speakers. The other speakers included Walter Ramsey, planner and conservation agent for the Town of Montague, as well as representatives of the Appalachian Mountain Club, American Whitewater and All Out Adventures. Three CRC staff were recording the event for further promotion. In reality about a dozen members of the public showed up to the “parade”, plus two journalists.


Revving up the “crowd” at Turners. Photo Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer

Funny thing–to prioritize commerce and recreation at a site that has been a half century without healing water, one that represents the epitome of historically fragile and endangered habitat. Strange bedfellows, these. Montague’s conservation agent was one more case in point. He noted that the town gets 20% of its tax revenue from Canada-owned, Delaware-registered FirstLight Power, so he wouldn’t want to see more water being returned to the impoverished Connecticut because that would mean less water diverted down the Turners Falls power canal–and less returned tax cash from their Delaware tax-sheltered, FirstLight LLC corporate absentee landlords/neighbors.

On the other hand, Ramsey noted, he is desirous of the economic bump a tourist town gets by drawing-in traffic for water sports. Those big, partying, river-running crowds so often filling the channels and pull-offs on the Deerfield mean big tourist dollars. What could be better?

In that vein though, there was no mixed message or hesitation at all on the part of the paddle-packing Bob Nasdor. He told those assembled that he sees access to this short river stretch that features one single, tiny rapid (incidentally it’s at precisely the shortnose sturgeon’s fragile and crumbling habitat and nursery) as a “tremendous opportunity”–naming the big commercial rafting outfits over on the Deerfield as well as people arriving for “tubing” as parties that have an eager interest in accessing the river here. This despite expert commentary from shortnose sturgeon biologist Dr. Boyd Kynard already in the FERC record stating that watercraft pose a danger to spawning and developing sturgeon here at their Rock Dam habitat.

As a journalist I thought this publicized press event would be a real opportunity to ask about why CRC had taken no action concerning the clearly dissolving Connecticut riverbanks just downstream in the critical and sole documented natural spawning site of the shortnose sturgeon. Its fragile nursery environs are at a tiny place in the river called the Rock Dam. Those failing Connecticut River banks are owned by FirstLight Power, and adjacent to their power canal.

So it seemed a good question to get an answer to with the public present: was it because CRC has no lawyer?–or because they accept money from the MA Department of Environmental Protection?—that they’ve wholly avoided the site and taken no action, never sought an injunction or tested water or intervened as members of the Connecticut River Streambank Erosion Committee?


Here are the dissolving, slumping–sink-hole deepening Connecticut River banks at the Rock Dam site on the day of the “portage parade,” July 10, 2021. Photo Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer

Ironically, this line of questioning was in nearly the exact same vein as the questions I’d put to Andy Fisk a half decade ago. That was when they decided to hold a discussion in Brattleboro, Vermont about river recreation access–including the all-but-asphyxiated Dead Reach of this Rock Dam river section, where shortnose sturgeon have been annually crippled in successful spawning in their ancient, critical habitat and fragile nursery site for a half century. My questions were not welcome back then either.

This day Director Fisk simply claimed that CRC was taking action. He clearly did not wish to go into any particulars answering in front of the handful of public paraders. He seemed quite rushed, all of a sudden. When I pressed him on several areas of exactly where that action was, and a long timeline where no action whatsoever has been taken, he ended my queries and put the mike down. Unbeknownst to me, a live-feed was being streamed by CRC and it was abruptly shut down when I began my questioning. I heard about this later.

Once the crowd moved away he walked up to reengage–but my questions remained the same, and his responses revealed no on-the-ground action at this critical site. Actually, CRC has filmed and promoted themselves everywhere in this little 2-1/2 mile reach BUT at the dissolving riverbanks and dewatered critical sturgeon habitat on this river. There are videos of a sea lamprey cookout and a swimming hole celebration nearby—plus a big celebration of baby lamprey rescues in the power canal. Now there’s some low hanging fruit protecting a fish that will likely survive Armageddon. But never have they ever brought a parade of people down to that fragile Rock Dam site and filmed them with a backdrop of dissolving Connecticut River banks and baking cobbles where young-of-the-year endangered shortnose sturgeon should be developing.

It’s not hard to find CRC OPINIONS delivered to federal and state entities on a whole host of river issues. They send in all sorts of formal comments. But please, don’t call them a watchdog. Watchdogs inspire fear in companies and public agencies when they break laws or fail to enforce them. They take action. They have hungry, day-to-day staff lawyers–and their missions state clearly: we investigate, we enforce; we go to court–we sue corporations.

CRC gets lots of grant funding from the very agencies they should be forcing to do their jobs. So, don’t look for action there. And, of course, they have an endless legacy going back to their beginnings as close friends and recipients of monies from WMECO/Northeast Utilities, (d.b.a. Eversource) who built the crippling facilities that today dominate this miserable stretch of river. Join the annually major-sponsored Eversource-to-sea clean-up…!

Eversource remains massively—commercially, wired into today’s FirstLight river-crippling facilities at both Northfield and Turners Falls, both parent-owned by PSP Investments of Canada. These facilities trample the key ecosystem functions of New England’s Great River in the heart of the Silvio O. Conte Connecticut River National Fish & Wildlife Refuge all the way from Greenfield and Turners Falls MA to Bellows Falls VT and Walpole NH. Both facilities remain in violation of the landmark environmental 1872 decision of the US Supreme Court—based just downstream on this river in Holyoke Company v. Lyman. It ruled that migratory fish must be provided safe upstream and downstream passage on this and all US rivers. Here, that means all the way up to central Vermont and New Hampshire–and back.

Canadian venture capital outfit PSP/FirstLight Power is playing for keeps. They arrived here to run the giant river and energy-sucking, net-power-loss operations at Northfield Mountain and the smaller Turners Falls ops for long-term cash a full 144 years after the Supreme Court made those critical protections the law of this land . But, judging by priorities here, it seems those foreign venture capitalists have come to the right US river system…

This was an extremely small parade.

Living rivers come first.

Be careful what you wish for…

CONNECTICUT RIVER BLOG: DISMAL SPAWNING SEASON ON THIS UNPROTECTED RIVER IN MASSACHUSETTS

Posted by on 05 Jul 2021 | Tagged as: blueback herring, Connecticut River Atlantic Salmon Commission, Connecticut River Conservancy, Connecticut River migratory fisheries restoration, CRASC, Federal Conte Anadromous Fish Research Center, FirstLight Power, John McPhee, Landmark Supreme Court Decision 1872, National Marine Fisheries Service, NMFS, Rock Dam, shortnose sturgeon, The Dead Reach, Turners Falls power canal, Uncategorized, US Geological Survey's Conte Fish Lab, USFWS, Vermont

Connecticut River Blog: dismal spawning season on this unprotected river in Massachusetts Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer

*American shad run lowest since 2010
* 2021 shortnose sturgeon passage will likely be the worst at Holyoke in the half decade since it’s lifts were modified to restore the population and allow spawning in critical upstream nursery habitat.

The spillway fish lift and attraction water at Holyoke Dam, June 2, 2021. Photo Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer

The migratory fish run on the Connecticut River is done for the season. No one should be celebrating. At Holyoke Dam fish passage was the lowest it’s been in over a decade, with just 238,000 American shad counted passing that site. Seesawing spring flows that at first saw little April rain to fill river channels then quickly ramped up as May was ushered, creating big attraction flow for shad seeking upstream access via the Holyoke lifts.

But for 10 days, beginning April 30th, no lifts ran at Holyoke. HG&E won’t run lifts with flows above 40,000 cubic feet per second, so those shad had to hold there in the currents of a quickly cooling-down river for over a week. Then, as the flows ebbed to lift-able levels they were again left stranded and burning energy for extra days—as turbidity protocols from the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) won’t allow awaiting fish runs to be helped upstream because they might miss tallying a single endangered shortnose sturgeon in the murky waters. Does this make sense–even for the sturgeon, or any of this ecosystem’s migrants?

In a time of climate heating chaos, this will only happen more often. Here’s a quick sketch of that migration dead-stop from USFWS Project Leader Ken Sprankle, who works to get regular fish passage updates out to the public: “Sierra at HFL(Holyoke Fish Lift) reported operations since the 4/30 closure did not resume until 5/10, with last weekend through 5/10 impacted by very turbid conditions that did not allow lift operations (sturgeon management factor).”

The parched riverbed in front of Holyoke Dam on June 2, 2021. The usual spring peak for shad runs occurs in late May. For 10 days in early May no lifts operated… Photo Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer

At first this might seem understandable—this abundance of caution while holding up thousands of other fish, except that the NMFS is doing literally NOTHING to protect and document shortnose sturgeon spawning success upstream at their critical Rock Dam site, and at a default industrial spawning site below Cabot Station’s ramping outflows. The whole purpose of fish lifts is to come into compliance with the Holyoke Company v. Lyman, landmark 1872 US Supreme Court decision, guaranteeing safe upstream and downstream passage at all dams.

So why hold up ANY fish—including shortnose sturgeon, in merely turbid early season conditions, when the purpose is to make sure all migrants can access upstream spawning habitat? To me, it’s disingenuous to implement a policy that seems more about data collection and missing a sturgeon or three—delaying and holding back runs of SNS and all other fish, when you are not doing a thing to ensure that those few endangered sturgeon have habitat and flow to successfully spawn. Are there any priorities that really put fish and protection first here?

As was noted at a June 24th meeting of the Connecticut River Atlantic Salmon Commission, US Geological Survey sturgeon biologist Micah Kieffer did virtually no work at the Rock Dam, the only documented natural spawning site for shortnose sturgeon in this river system that he helped confirm while working for decades with Dr. Boyd Kynard. Not a single bit of investigation or a gill or egg nets set to see about spawning success—just 250 yards from the Conte Lab where Kieffer works. It appears looking after sturgeon is important everywhere BUT the place where they need protection in order to successfully reproduce.

Micah Kieffer spent a good chunk of this season looking for ghost shortnose sturgeon and chasing fish stories far upstream from their critical habitat all the way to Bellows Falls–which proved as fruitful as finding the Loch Ness Monster. Last year, the emphasis was again chasing ghosting fish upriver that were never found. It has now been three seasons since I begged and badgered Micah to take a receiver down to Rock Dam, just a literal stone’s throw away from Conte Lab. After he took me up on that single visit he ultimately ended up documenting 48 SNS present at their ancient site–the largest spawning aggregation ever recorded there across decades of investigation. The fish were there several more days–that is until Canada-owned FirstLight Power cut off the flows—interfering with the spawning of a US federally endangered species.

De-watered critical sturgeon spawning and nursery habitat at Rock Dam, May 16, 2021. Photo Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer

There were likely no suitable conditions allowing SNS spawning and rearing at their Rock Dam nursery again this year. I documented that in my photos of their sheltering cobbles baking in the sizzling June sun. So, so much for anyone protecting endangered fish or habitat. When there is no watchdog, there is no enforcement.

One big reveal at the June CRASC Technical Committee meeting was much-touted news that shortnose sturgeon eggs were recovered below Holyoke Dam. Here’s that event, put down in USFWS’s Fish Passage Report from Ken Sprankle on June 30th: “Some important fisheries news was shared at the CRASC Tech when CTDEEP confirmed they had sampled Shortnose Sturgeon eggs in habitat immediately downstream of the Holyoke Dam. Eighty eggs were collected in a sampling bout using egg mats with genetic confirmation, the first documentation of spawning outside of the Rock Dam and Cabot Station shoal, Turners Falls.” But this was really nothing new. Some minor spawning activity has long been known to occur below that industrial site where sturgeon were blocked from accessing their upstream habitat for well over a century.

Chapter 2 in Life History and Behavior of Connecticut River Shortnose and Other Sturgeons, 2012, published by the World Sturgeon Conservation Society (a chapter authored by B. Kynard, M. Kieffer, B.E. Kynard, M. Burlingame, and P. Vinogradov) states that spawning activity has been documented, understood and accepted since the late 1990’s in the area below Holyoke Dam. This is the place where sturgeon had forever been trapped in a spawning cull de sac—more or less since the first dam there was completed in 1849. So, though it is some new data, it does nothing to protect the SNS’s critical upstream spawning site–or the broken river ecosystem at Turners Falls and well beyond.

More CRASC hubbub was created when it was noted that professional divers looking for yellow lamp mussels stumbled on several dozen young-of-the-year shortnose sturgeon and took videos of them at a major in-river construction site in Springfield. Ironic that those divers were not sturgeon researchers… The big excitement was the cute video of baby fish. But it seems the ‘discovery’ was more a celebration of a random technological happenstance than progress in safeguarding this season’s sturgeon spawning run and success.

Anglers in a motorized raft in fragile Rock Dam habitat May 25, 2021 Photo Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer

Here’s just one other twisted shortnose sturgeon kicker: those motivated, early-spring spawning-run shortnose sturgeon that get rejected at Holyoke’s lifts in that April-to-late May spawning window because of high flow or the dreaded “turbidity”, are denied a season’s spawning opportunity at their critical upstream Rock Dam site. But this July a new circumstance has been implemented that could help deny more up-running SNS a shot at successful spawning NEXT year!

For Connecticut River shortnose sturgeon there’s actually a bigger, seasonal early-SUMMER migration peak. It’s an upstream push for shortnose sturgeon attempting to find their way past Holyoke Dam. It occurs at the beginning of July and peaks soon thereafter. This is thought to be a “staging” migration for spawning-age fish–for sturgeon moving upriver to prepare to spawn the following year.

However, this year HG&E decided that maintenance on the fish lifts was overdue, and the federal agencies gave the okay for Holyoke Gas & Electric to shut down its lifts beginning July 1st–keeping them off-line for up to three months. Most sturgeon get lifted at Holyoke in July. Delaying those lift closures by just two weeks could have allowed a significant chunk of that critical SNS run to pass upstream. So much for ESA protections…

The average upstream count at Holyoke these last 5 years has been 58 shortnose sturgeon lifted. This year’s count stands at a paltry 11 fish. Thus, it’s pretty much guaranteed it will be a dismal year for passage upstream to critical habitats—Holyoke Company v. Lyman and all those endangered fish be damned!

There was one … tiny ray of hope noted at the June CRASC meeting. After two years of my reporting and intervening on behalf of the buckling banks, sink holes and grim discharge from the failing Connecticut River banks at Rock Dam, Ken Sprankle has been the sole fisheries person to take note. He actually proposed action. The Connecticut River Conservancy, with their water lab, refused to do testing there, and there was no action whatsoever from the Connecticut River Streambank Erosion Committee. On a river with a watchdog pressure would have been applied to force the National Marine Fisheries or MA DEP to take action on the failing riverbanks—which are the responsibility of FirstLight. Or, more to the point, a watchdog could have gone straight after the corporation. But no one to stepped up in that role. Because there is no watchdog here.

Rock Dam raft runners on May 29, 2019.

However, the USFWS’s Ken Spankle did get a study proposal put together that could potentially document the common-sense linkage of those crumbling banks to the Turners Falls power canal–just 150 feet away, as possible culprit and source of the bank failures and habitat pollution. Isn’t this ultimately a potential TF canal failure—the DIVERTED Connecticut River trying to return to its own riverbed less than 200 feet distant? This–on a protected river, would seem a slam dunk to document during a critical time when a new license for decades to come is in the offing. I raised these issues again in questions to the CRASC in their on-line meeting.

Rafters invade fragile Rawson Island at the Rock Dam site to lug their boat upstream for another tilt at Rock Dam’s tiny rapid, May 29, 2019.

Ken Sprankle needs just $131,000 to get the study done–at a time when a $100-million-plus foreign corporation is seeking to run our river here for decades. But he’s found he can’t find the money amongst and between all these federal and state agencies that would enable it to go forward.

You’d think all of CRASC member agencies would be falling all over themselves to chip in and get this critical information—especially since it was their forebears who ruined an easily restorable fish passage prospect at Turners Falls Dam in the mid-1970s. They did this by turning their backs on constructing a simple fish ladder there. That ruined prospects for a true Connecticut River migratory fisheries restoration for hundreds of thousands of American shad and blueback herring to VT, NH, and northern MA each spring for a full half century.

BTW, in the name of further explanation of the above: the predecessor and immediate precursor of CRASC, is the fed/state fisheries cooperative that—in 1969, turned what should have been an CT River fisheries restoration project into a 43 year odyssey that put the river’s long extinct salmon strain (since 1809) at the top of Connecticut River species restoration pyramid, stumbling right past the needs of American shad and blueback herring. These same two federal agencies and four states signed off on the wretched, river-emptied, three-ladder fish passage based on salmon at this Dead Reach in Turners Falls. That has left this river system broken from mile 122 all the way upstream into southern Vermont and New Hampshire.

Their decision at Turner Falls for fish passage essentially killed a true river restoration when that ladder system was completed in 1980. VT, NH and northern MA never saw a fraction of their promised runs of American shad and herring. CRASC’s current chairperson, Andy Fisk of the Connecticut River Conservancy recently described shad as “lazy” in an interview with the Springfield Republican. I think those shad–as well as John McPhee, would agree American shad deserve a better spokesperson.

Failing Connecticut River banks at Rock Dam, June 15, 2021. Photo Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer

I do credit Ken Sprankle, who is extremely busy, for making that pitch and getting a study plan put together. This is a Massachusetts problem—home of the broken Connecticut River, and all those present here should find it shameful. The study would take two seasons. But time is tight for it to have any merit in terms of licensing, and this is a river bureaucracy bathed in INACTION.

In a time when the Dead Reach of the Connecticut has been left half-dead and de-watered at the fragile and failing Rock Dam reach for over half a century, you might think the first priority there would be protection and letting this critical patient have a chance to finally begin to heal. Thus it seems rather ironic and no less a bit dangerous that the Connecticut River Conservancy, Appalachian Mountain Club, American Whitewater and other groups will be doing a big PR push in mid-July to bring more joyriding traffic through the fragile Rock Dam site–which has any number of legitimate critical preservation needs and designations.

A campsite and someone living on the south end of Rawson Island opposite the Rock Dam pool on July 4, 2021. Does this critical habitat merit protection, or merely a flood of new visitors… Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer

What seems sure to absolutely create more damage and dishonor at this place are crowds jamming downstream to run the single tiny Rock Dam rapid. Many of us have witnessed the ugly traffic jams and trash sites on the Deerfield River. What will happen when crowds descend on this critical area? Does CRC have a plan to protect this habitat? Will they pay for police and search and rescue operations? Will the AMC? Or does the Town of Montague get stuck with the problem and the bill in this tiny backwater so critical to a restored ecosystem?

Perhaps the full CRASC will have something to say about this at their upcoming meeting? Oh but Andy Fisk of CRC is the CRASC’s chair, so perhaps it’s just fine. I’m sure there’s a plan. Be careful what you wish for! What I’m not certain of is whether the folks living in the little “Patch” section of Turners will be thanking CRC. Certainly the sturgeon won’t…