Andrew Fisk

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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: not clean; not healthy–it’s this river refuge’s hall of shame in MA

Posted by on 17 Jun 2021 | Tagged as: Andrew Fisk, climate change, climate-heating, Connecticut River, Connecticut River Conservancy, Connecticut River ecosystem, Connecticut River shortnose sturgeon, Conte National Fish & Wildlife Refuge, CRC, Dead Reach, Delaware LLC, Dr. Boyd Kynard, ecosystem, ESA, Federal Conte Anadromous Fish Research Center, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, federally-endangered Connecticut River shortnose sturgeion, FERC, FERC license, FirstLight Power, fish passage, ISO, ISO-NEW ENGLAND, LLC, Micah Kieffer, National Marine Fisheries Service, NMFS, Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Project, Public Sector Pension Investments, pumped storage, Rock Dam, Silvio O. Conte Connecticut River National Fish and Wildlife Refuge, State of Delaware, Turners Falls dam, Turners Falls power canal, Uncategorized, USFWS, Vermont, water lab

Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer


June 15, 2021, the baking, dewatered Rock Dam cobbles at the shortnose sturgeon nursery, where early life stage sturgeon should find watery shelter. This is DEAD, critical habitat. Photo Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer

For a fourth season beyond the date (4/30/2018)Canada’s Public Sector Pension Investments FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) license expired to operate their FirstLight Power, river-ravaging Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage project and river-starving Turners Falls/Cabot Station power canal diversions out of the main stem river, conditions for fish and a living river ecosystem have again proven grimly dismal. Conditions last weekend in the 20 mile reach backed up for NMPS’s river-gorging behind TF dam got so ugly there was not even water to launch a boat just a half mile above the dam at the state boat launch. See Ch. 22 link below.

https://www.wwlp.com/news/local-news/franklin-county/low-water-levels-for-parts-of-connecticut-river-in-franklin-county/

Without a watchdog and a lawyer with an injunction at the ready, that’s just what you come to expect here. Insanity is witnessing the same lack of enforcement and leadership languishing, year-in, year-out, and expecting different results.


Migration season spill to the actual riverbed amounts to little more than a pan of dishwater–for fish seeking an upstream route to Vermont and New Hampshire. Photo Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer

The most interesting statements on the situation did not come from any of the agencies or the ngo laying claim to safeguarding this massively abused reach, but from PSP’s FirstLight Power–now re-registered out of the Bay State as a Delaware llc. Here, in their press statement they actually felt quite comfortable pointing to ISO-New England in Holyoke–the “electric grid operator,” as the responsible party for choking the life out of the Connecticut in Franklin County–right in the midst of key spring spawning when development of early life stages are critical to restoring beleaguered runs of migratory fish. READ FL statement BELOW:

“Over the weekend water levels in the area of Barton Cove were exceptionally shallow due to several overlapping conditions affecting water levels in the Turners Falls Impoundment.These factors included dispatch of our facility by the electric grid operator at the same time we were spilling water over the Turners Falls dam to meet federally required flows to support fish passage. These conditions are all within the approved and licensed operation of the facilities, however, coupled with lower than usual flows in the river, the water levels dropped to an unusually low level in this instance.”

ISO-New England and PSP/FirstLight are like corporate kissing cousins–in a grim Bermuda Triangle where the river disappears. That triangle goes from Northfield/Turners Falls through Holyoke, thence down to Delaware for tax-dollar cleaning; and then way back north to Canada for profit-taking. OOOPPS, I guess that makes it a Bermuda RECTANGLE!

Anyway, hard to reconcile those grim, pillaging river conditions with any massive requirement for huge amounts of power… It was simply a gorgeous June weekend–no giant peak power use or anything in the way of summer heatwave stuff going on. Could it be that our ecosystem was being massively thrown under the bus purely for profit taking? Or, was ISO-NE exporting our river–ravaged for its megawatts, far outside our region? Did the Connecticut get pillaged for use in the New York power grid? It’s just a scam, wrapped in a riddle, with no media scrutiny permitted.

Here, though, I must extend a prize for BS to FirstLight’s PR people who blame, in part, the fact that they “were spilling water over the Turners Falls dam to meet federally required flows to support fish passage.” Their sole and absurdly “required” offering of spill into the riverbed for migrating fish is 400 cubic feet per second in fish passage season. That’s the equivalent of a dishpan’s worth of water, when a swimming pool’s worth is the minimum required to restore a living ecosystem below the Turners Falls dam. These communications people are high paid, and they are so good when you have an uninformed public.

MEANWHILE, I visited that DEAD REACH below TF Dam on Monday. The Rock Dam, the only documented natural spawning site of the only federally-endangered migratory fish on the Connecticut in Massachusetts. For endangered shortnose sturgeon in Franklin County, just yards away from the Conte Fish Lab, and just across the river from the home of the Connecticut River Conservancy, it was just another de-watered, failing riverbanks day. Baking cobbles, blood-orange sludge drooling down failing banks and entering the Connecticut as slurry. Months back Andy Fisk of CRC–with its own in-house water lab, definitively told the media he would not sample that grim soup. I guess if you sample and find a problem, people would expect action.


June 15, 2021: here are the blood-orange, buckling Connecticut River banks sloughing directly into the Rock Dam pool. Photo Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer


The sludge outlet into Rock Dam. The sturgeon bakery-beach cobbles are in the background, right–that little tongue of dead water is the CT River’s “flow”. Photo Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer

The Rock Dam pool, as some of this river’s most critically endangered habitat, was exhaustively investigated by Conte Lab’s Dr. Boyd Kynard and his assistant Micah Kieffer, for 17 straight seasons. Yet today, in the midst of critical relicensing times, Conte Lab does not even set out a basic water-level data loggers–which would at the very least, offer annual data during the critical spawning months of April through June on flows, depth and temperature. That would at least tell you on what particular date and time. and at what water temperature the dam and headgate operators upstream inside FirstLight’s Northfield Mountain shut off the spigot at Turners Falls dam, sending their grim pumped storage surges sideways into their canal and screwing another sturgeon spawning season at this ancient nursery site for endangered fish trying to hold their place in the ecosystem.

I personally paid for and installed a data logger at Rock Dam a half decade back–though I could not have got it done without the quiet and prodigious help and expertise of a leading sturgeon biologist and investigator. The results were incontrovertible and damning. They got forwarded to the National Marine Fisheries Service, the lead agency on sturgeon protection, and USFWS. No action was ever taken.

I also intervened with FERC vs. FirstLight for dewatering Rock Dam three spawning seasons back–citing violation of the ESA in the face of the KNOWN presence of spawning sturgeon there. My argument, which did result in a FERC hearing in Washington DC, was made on the basis that FirstLight violated their license requirement to coordinate operations of their Northfield and TF facilities, which also includes adherence to the tenets of “takings” under the Endangered Species Act. FERC tossed out the my arguments on inscrutable grounds, but I at least stood up.

If I had a federal lab this season–or for ten seasons past, I would have protected that shortnose nursery just 300 yards away and right under my nose at my federal lab. That’s “Science for a Changing World.” And if I had a water testing lab at my facility, the first thing I would have done is take that water sample–just to be sure. This year, or last year–because that’s what real river protection means.

Clean water;healthy habitats in Franklin County Massachusetts? I think not. Massachusetts is where the Connecticut River ecosystem dies; and the profits fly out of the region. Special thanks to PSP Investments, your neighbor since 2016, and ISO-New England, your bulk power corporate facilitator.

OHHHHH, OOOOHHH! And please don’t forget, every time Len Greene from FirstLight, or Alicia Barton leaves you walking away from some press release somehow thinking that Northfield Mountain is producing ‘clean’, ‘carbon free’ energy?–do note that Northfield is a huge energy CONSUMER that has never produced a single watt of virgin power. In reality it is running off the massive slugs of carbon gorging/planet warming natural gas that today powers the ISO-New England Power grid. In recent days, without any heat wave in sight, their energy “mix” that is massively pulled on for NMPS’s river killing has exceeded 60% natural gas at times. There is everything deadly, and little benign, about what Northfield has done to the Connecticut these last 49 years–or what it will do in the future.

Finally, the thing to note and remember about the Connecticut River across all these decades:

WHERE THERE IS NO WATCHDOG, THERE IS NO ENFORCEMENT.

There is no watchdog protecting this river.

CONNECTICUT RIVER: maybe not left for DEAD after all

Posted by on 04 May 2021 | Tagged as: American shad, Anadromous Fish Conservation Act, Andrew Fisk, Connecticut River, Connecticut River Atlantic Salmon Commission, Connecticut River Watershed Council, Conte National Fish & Wildlife Refuge, CRC, Daniel McKiernan: Director MA Division of Marine Fisheries, Delaware LLC, Eversource, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, federal trust fish, FERC, FirstLight, Julie Crocker, Kathleen Theoharides, MA Division of Fish and Wildlife, Martin Suuberg, Martin Suuberg: Commissioner MA Department of Environmental Protection, Massachusetts DEP, Massachusetts Division of Fish & Wildlife, National Marine Fisheries Service, NMFS, Northfield Mountain, Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station, P-2485, Ron Amidon: Commissioner MA Dept. of Fish and Game, Source to Sea Cleanup, State of Delaware, The Greenfield Recorder, Traprock Center for Peace and Justice, US Fish & Wildlife Service, USFWS, Wendi Weber

CONNECTICUT RIVER: maybe not left for DEAD after all

Following the Great Earth Week Walk for River Survival to the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Project on April 24th, it’s been inspiring to see people publicly raising their voices to pull the grim, daily carnage of that power-hungry machine out from the shadows. One of particular insight was written by Susan Olmsted and appeared in The Recorder on April 30:
https://www.recorder.com/my-turn-olmsted-NorthfieldHydroStation-40211638 . Later, Ms. Olmsted relayed those same points into the public record of Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s relicensing comments for the Northfield docket: FERC P-2485. Those are the routes to raising the public profile of our endlessly crippled River—its fate all but buried under confidentiality agreements and generations of inaction by the responsible agencies and so-called protectors. They all continue to lay low in a process that will decide our river’s ultimate viability for decades.


At the NMPS Intake. Photo Copyright © 2021 by James Smethurst

I again must thank the Traprock Center for Peace and Justice and Anna Gyorgy for organizing the event. Having written about this broken river for decades, and now having served on the Fish and Aquatics Study Team in this endless FERC process since 2012, it was an honor to speak up for the river with a caring and determined crowd in attendance. As I’ve noted to several people, last October I witnessed MA Energy Secretary Kathleen Theoharides and Watershed Council/Conservancy Director Andy Fisk launch a PR canoe tour for elected officials–directly upstream of the killer suction pipes of Northfield. In grim, self-serving fashion neither stepped up to the TV cameras or spoke with attendant reporters to proclaim, “This thing is our river’s greatest killer, it should be closed; this company, FirstLight, wholly re-registered these holdings out of state into Delaware as tax shelters two years back—they have no business here.” Shame on them both.

Watershed Council/CRC Director Andy Fisk, in vest, Chairs the Connecticut River Atlantic Salmon Commission 12/10/2018

BTW, we spoke at some depth on the Walk about the NU/Eversource building-of, and current massive connections to NMPS–and also the long-standing financial and Source to Sea greenwashing links between the Watershed Council/Conservancy and Eversource? Well, here’s a little late-breaking Eversource monopoly news: https://www.eenews.net/stories/1063731537

Personally, I would feel I’d failed our Great River, this ecosystem and coming generations had I never stood in front of this killer to bear witness to the truth. NMPS is a killer, and no configuration that leaves its grim sucking mouth open for ANY part of the year will retrieve it from being the most lethal machine ever deployed on the Connecticut. After so many years I am grateful that I had that opportunity–to stand up with other people and keep faith with our river–and link with those who will depend on its living waters in the future.


Revival Walk Crowd April 24, 2021 Photo Copyright © 2021 by David Keith

I don’t think a single person in attendance that day believes the snake-oil logic for continuing NMPS: that wasting massive amounts of energy to actually pull a river backward for miles–sucking 100s of millions of fish to their deaths as it wrenches its deadened water up a mountain, will ever be any kind energy “clean” or “green” solution on a heating-up planet whose ecosystems are unraveling. FirstLight’s will merely continue the laying-waste to our long-crippled river. It has nourished life here for millennia; they want to trade that in for their few hours of peak-priced energy.


MA Secretary of Energy & Environmental Affairs Kathleen Theoharides talks to the media–just yards away from Northfield’s deadly intake on a fluff PR tour on the river, October 2020. Photo Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer

It’s important to remember that this machine’s emplacement ran counter to one of the most significant landmark environmental decisions ever from the US Supreme Court, centered right here on the Connecticut River in 1872. In Holyoke Company v. Lyman the Court decided private operators of dams and facilities on the Connecticut—and thence, for all rivers, must provide safe upstream and downstream passage for migratory fish. Nearly 150 years later, this machine continues crushing millions of migratory fish—among them federal trust American shad, blueback herring and American eels. That killing occurs for eggs, larvae, juveniles and adult fish across the many months of their full migratory life cycles.

With the presence of a real watchdog, NMPS’s illegal presence never would have arisen here. There were decades to have sued for its shutdown. Today, neither its operation–nor FirstLight’s thin mitigation proposal to put up a partial, temporary net across its mouth annually that might spare some adult shad and eels from its suction just two months out of their killing year, even remotely passes the smell test for legal operation in a US Fish & Wildlife Refuge.

Raising public voices and flushing the buried dealings in this race-to-the-bottom FERC relicensing process is now the key to having some real impact in saving the Connecticut.

This Great River still feeds bodies and souls. It’s been struggling for well over half a century without an entity taking on the necessary mandate to “enforce” and take on the employ of a day-to-day legal team worthy of facing down predator corporations. This is an ecosystem destined to failure if citizens stay on the sidelines. But people are getting it; and standing up. Maybe this critical life-line of a river can be revived for the coming half century, to again nourish those of the future.

WORTH NOTING: Massachusetts and federal agency officials responsible for securing a living Connecticut River for your great, great, grand kids–upstream and down, through to Vermont and New Hampshire:

Kathleen Theoharides: Sec. of MA Energy & Environmental Affairs
Martin Suuberg: Commissioner MA Department of Environmental Protection
Ron Amidon: Commissioner MA Dept. of Fish & Game
Daniel McKiernan: Director MA Division of Marine Fisheries
Wendi Weber: Director Region 5, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Julie Crocker: Branch Chief, Endangered Fish Recovery unit, NOAA, Gloucester MA (endangered CT River shortnose sturgeon habitat)

Of Book Bans, Journalism and Shortnose Stout

Posted by on 06 Mar 2021 | Tagged as: Alden Booth, Andrew Fisk, Barnaby Watten, Bob Flaherty, Clean Water Act, Congressman John Olver, Connecticut River, Connecticut River Conservancy, Connecticut River shortnose sturgeon, critical habitat, Dr. Boyd Kynard, Endangered Species Act, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, federally-endangered Connecticut River shortnose sturgeion, FERC, FirstLight Power, Fish and Aquatics Study Team, journalism, MA Division of Fish and Wildlife, Monte Belmonte, National Marine Fisheries Service, National Marine Fisheries Service, Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Project, Rock Dam, Rock Dam Pool, Shortnose Stout, Silvio O. Conte Connecticut River National Fish and Wildlife Refuge, The People's Pint, Turners Falls dam, Turners Falls power canal, Uncategorized, US Fish & Wildlife Service, US Geological Survey's Conte Fish Lab, WHMP, WRSI

Of Book Bans, Journalism and Shortnose Stout: a brief history of science, censorship and the short, noble life of a beer created to help stop corporate abuse on the Connecticut River Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer

(NOTE: for a WHMP podcast with Host Bob Flaherty related to this story go here: https://whmp.com/morning-news/sturgeon-stout-has-come-gone-but-the-harm-to-the-sturgeons-spawning-ground-continues/ )

A red slurry enters the Connecticut at the Rock Dam

Nearly a decade back retired federal fisheries biologist Dr. Boyd Kynard was putting the finishing touches on a book entitled Life History and Behaviour of Connecticut River Shortnose and Other Sturgeons. It was a compilation of sturgeon research conducted by federal biologists and university researchers—largely based locally on the Connecticut River shortnose sturgeon. Its findings described the shortnose sturgeon’s life history and habitat needs on the river from below Holyoke Dam, all the way to a spawning site known as the Rock Dam. The ancient Rock Dam site is just a few hundred yards from the USGS Conte Lab in Turners Falls where Kynard had spent a chunk of his career.

The sturgeon book authored by Kynard et al

Just as Kynard’s book was going to print in Germany, published by the World Sturgeon Conservation Society, Boyd Kynard and Harold Rosenthal, its editors, received word from the US Geological Service that two chapters of the book were being “recalled” for “editorial” reasons, and all publication would need to be halted in the United States and abroad. The reasons given were rather murky at the time—some were vague stylistic preferences. Kynard immediately smelled a rat. He believed that the two chapters thrown into question were being stymied because they used the term “river regulation” as a key factor in the spawning failure of the shortnose sturgeon here—the only federally endangered migratory fish in the Connecticut River system and one that spawned on the doorstep of the USGS Conte Lab.

The term river regulation was accurate, precise and descriptive. It referred to conditions created when the power company, just upstream, either inundated or starved the bed of the Connecticut River via operation of its Turners Falls Dam. The dam is operated in response to the massive river disruption created when the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station, a giant, net-loss energy contraption just upstream, either suctioned or spewed huge pulses of water in and out of the riverbed. This grim industrial model literally cripples the ancient flows of this ecosystem, killing millions of fish outright, while creating spawning conditions for shortnose sturgeon that cause spawning failure most years at Rock Dam. The Rock Dam, confirmed by Kynard’s research, is the only documented natural spawning site on the river. It appeared the USGS did not want something put in print that directly stated those facts—one that led straight back to the actions of a corporation.

As a journalist I’d already spent many hours with Boyd Kynard, asking questions about sturgeon, shad, and river conditions. We’d had many a fine discussion over breakfast and coffee, often lasting two hours and more. The idea that the book’s information was being embargoed, censored, really hit a sour note about free speech, freedom of information and interfering with the facts and data of research science. Along with Dr. Kynard, several of the ten co-authors of the book’s chapters from various labs and universities cried foul.

The US Geological Service actually caused the book’s publication to be banned for a brief time in Europe, but the publishers ultimately decided they would not be bowed by the politics of a foreign federal agency. They resumed printing and selling the book. Here in the United State, USGS held tight to their recall and vague objections to the book’s science. Compiled and written by Kynard and fellow researchers, The Life History and Behaviour of Connecticut River Shortnose and Other Sturgeons was essentially banned—with no schedule for those USGS’s loose objections to be resolved. Months passed as the silencing of federal and state research science and the work of those authors, continued.

What ultimately broke the ban was journalism. I interviewed Kynard. Then I attempted to interview his long-time assistant and fellow researcher Micah Kieffer, who still worked at the USGS Conte Lab. Kieffer was not allowed to speak with me. In fact, that spring he was unceremoniously taken off sturgeon research altogether, and sent upriver to work on studies of trout—far from his area of expertise. Ultimately, I was able to get Barnaby Watten, Branch Chief at Conte Lab on the record. Not surprisingly, he could provide no clear reason why USGS was recalling and withholding Kynard and Kieffer’s Chapters 1 and 3. After that I tracked down the USGS editor, who it turned out, had no experience in shortnose sturgeon biology. It all went into my developing story for the Daily Hampshire Gazette.

But what ultimately broke the embargo was my chat with an aide to Congressman John Olver—noting to him that a group of federal and university researchers had all signed a letter to his boss, decrying the silencing of federal and university research. In short, they claimed censorship by USGS. Free speech protections, university science and the public’s right to know were being thwarted by a federal agency. Once this was brought to the attention of John Olver’s office I was quickly informed that Dr. Olver, a former UMass professor, fully intended to “look into the matter.”

The next day I brought that bit of information back to Barnaby Watten at USGS, asking for a reaction. This was a Friday. And, with just that bit of inquiry on behalf of the public’s right to know, the federal embargo on the government and university science contained in Life History and Behaviour of Connecticut River Shortnose and Other Sturgeons, quickly evaporated. By the weekend, Dr. Kynard was signing and delivering copies of a book that was the product of his nearly 20 years of federal sturgeon research. My Gazette article appeared sometime the following week.

What made it so creepy—the recall and ban, was that it was coming on the heels of the beginning of the relicensing process for the Turners Falls Dam and Turners Falls Power Canal, and the giant Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station, 7 miles upriver. The corporate owners of that spawning-crippling “river regulation” lived right nearby. The land USGS Conte Lab sat on was owned by the power company. Hard not to contemplate a corporate connection.

Anyway, that fall, 2012, I began taking part as a participating stakeholder and member of the Fish and Aquatics Studies Team in the Federal Energy Regulatory Relicensing process for those facilities. I had a lot of science and writing experience pertaining to fish, dam, and river issues, and also had worked for both the power company and the watershed council previously. It was a pretty thorough bit of starter knowledge that I could make use of. I knew where the bodies were buried, where culpability for the abuse and failures in habitat protection lay.

Funny thing though, when the state and federal fish agencies, assorted stakeholders and the power company, FirstLight, sat down to discuss river studies and information needed to create new river conditions in a new license, very little mention was being made of shortnose sturgeon, the sole endangered species trying to spawn right in the heart of these relicense settings.

Frustrated, as deadlines loomed for the outlines of that spring’s fish migration studies were being discussed—all largely without anyone talking “sturgeon”, I phoned Dr. Kynard. In light of the seeming “third rail” absence of discussion about needed flows for sturgeon spawning, I asked him to release permission for me to use and enter Chapters 1 and 3 into the federal record of the relicensing. Boyd complied, and I quickly put all that science into the record so it would have standing. I also intervened later that spring when some test flows into the riverbed suggested by the power company were so low that they were guaranteed to interfere with sturgeon spawning. I won a change in the spring study flows–they didn’t get to low-ball the river’s only endangered migrants that year.

Shortnose Stout: a noble public information idea that ultimately went sideways; then belly up

Still, as time went on there just seemed to be only a smattering of lip service at the company/stakeholder meeting tables involving river flows and fish studies that mentioned shortnose sturgeon. It was remarkably, eerily quiet on that count. One day over a coffee meeting where I was downloading more long-term fisheries knowledge from Dr. Kynard, I told him that I had an idea for a beer, Shortnose Stout. I promised him I would find a producer for it, to help get the word out about sturgeon flows to the public. That effort would take many more months, but when out cycling one warm day I bumped into Alden Booth, owner of The People’s Pint in Greenfield. I told him I had this great idea for a beer name and marketing concept to help create change for an amazing–and amazingly ignored fish. He came on board pretty quick.

Over the winter things began to brewing. The Pint came up with a fine label, a Shortnose sturgeon backlit by a full sturgeon moon. I came up with the text, describing both the beer and the biological plight of the sturgeon at its spawning site, the Rock Dam—while pointing the public to the science featured on Kynard’s website. This was all volunteer work for me, done in the name of giving a voice to the river and this embattled fish.

The brand I created; my text, and Dr. Kynard’s website link.

The beer debuted on St. Patrick’s Day at The People’s Pint, and created quite a buzz. Meanwhile, Alden Booth had asked me whether there wasn’t a group that could be targeted to benefit from the sale of Shortnose Stout. I told him that I really didn’t see anyone doing any worthy river protection in light of this endangered fish’s plight. Nobody had taken up that fight. There was no one that deserved either praise or reward in the sturgeon’s name. So, it was let go at that.

The following spring, despite the Endangered Species Act, the published book, the science, and a year of Shortnose Stout, no one was standing up to the sturgeon miseries STILL occurring at the Rock Dam spawning site in the midst of federal negotiations. There was no action, nothing stated from Mass. Fish and Wildlife, US Fish and Wildlife Service, or National Marine Fisheries about stepping in at this critical time, and no USGS work to track spawning success at Rock Dam.

I did learn from The Pint’s Booth that the popular stout was going to be brewed again in March. But where I again would’ve noted that none were worthy of having stood up for sturgeon, I was informed that the Connecticut River Watershed Council was stepping up to collect funds in the name of the Shortnose sturgeon. With that I simply declined the invitation to be at that spring’s St. Patrick’s Day debut of a new batch of Shortnose Stout. Dr. Kynard did attend, and on the invitee list was also Dr. Andy Fisk, newly arrived director of the Connecticut River Watershed Council–happy to step in front of a camera.

Fisk had recently been pictured in The Greenfield Recorder, holding a bottle of Shortnose Stout on a bridge above the Connecticut. Any self-respecting shortnose sturgeon would tell you that the only site worthy of getting a photograph taken for your hard, hard work protecting this species would have required you to pose at the Rock Dam–the grimly embattled site that remains this river’s ugliest, most pointedly-ignored and undefended critical biological habitat on the entire river. The Watershed Council collected the profits and accolades in the name of the shortnose, while the actual fish remained undefended and under siege for yet another spawning season at Rock Dam. It’s great PR associating with an endangered species though.

I believe that was the final year Shortnose Stout was brewed. It was a shame such an opportunity for action was squandered. The miseries for this river’s federal and state endangered shortnose sturgeon remain today exactly as they were nearly a decade back, when a federal agency quickly stepped in and placed an embargo on a book written by researchers doing public research in the public’s interest, conducted at their own federal facilities.

The watershed council has since changed its name to “conservancy,” but in all its 69 years has never brought on board any legal staff, or adopted a mission to investigate, enforce, and prosecute—the basic things necessary to lay claim to protecting a river and endangered species.

The Connecticut River Shortnose sturgeon will arrive back at its ancient Rock Dam spawning site in just five weeks. There the riverbanks have been collapsing and failing, oozing a grim orange puss that feeds directly into their cobbled spawning pool home. The Rock Dam’s critical habitat becomes more debased, embattled and ignored with each passing season. Year after year, decade upon decade, there is no more disgraceful biological habitat—on this river, at the heart of the Connecticut River National Fish and Wildlife Refuge, on the doorstep of the USGS Conte Lab, just across the river from Greenfield, home to the Connecticut River Conservancy, than the ancient Rock Dam pool on New England’s Great River.


The Connecticut River’s Rock Dam spawning pool today. Shortnose sturgeon will be returning to this grim and undefended spawning habitat 5 weeks from today.

In the end, nobody walked the walk. No one stepped up; no one deserved to profit from the sale of a beer named to honor and protect a river and a magnificent and embattled ancient fish.

Here in Massachusetts on the Connecticut River during a critical and endless FERC relicensing process the only apparent player playing for keeps is FirstLight Power–the Canadian-owned, Delaware-registered, recently-arrived operators of these river-crippling facilities. Their shareholders are delighted, I’m sure.

What will our grandchildren have to say about what we failed to do here?.

(**NOTE: for further information related to this story listen to the following podcast with Host Monte Belmonte from WRSI, The River. https://wrsi.com/monte/saving-rock-dam-from-damnation/

DON’T SHORT-SELL NEW ENGLAND’S GREAT RIVER

Posted by on 17 Mar 2017 | Tagged as: Alex Haro, American Whitewater, Andrew Fisk, Bob Nasdor, Caleb Slater, Connecticut River ecosystem, Connecticut River migratory fisheries restoration, Connecticut River Watershed Council, CRWC, Dr. Boyd Kynard, ecosystem, Endangered Species Act, ESA, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, federally-endangered Connecticut River shortnose sturgeon, federally-endangered shortnose sturgeon, FERC, FERC licensing process, FirstLight, Holyoke Gas & Electric, John Warner, MA Division of Fish and Wildlife, National Marine Fisheries Service, National Marine Fisheries Service, NMFS, NOAA, Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station, PSP Investments, public trust, Relicensing, Sean McDermott, Society of Environmental Journalists, The Nature Conservancy, Turners Falls, Turners Falls dam, US Fish & Wildlife Service, US Geological Survey

(Note: the following piece appeared in The Recorder, www.recorder.com, on March 11, 2017 under the heading: “Who will protect Connecticut River?”)

DON’T SHORT-SELL NEW ENGLAND’S GREAT RIVER

Copyright © 2017 by Karl Meyer

Canadian investors are looking to purchase the Connecticut River for a few decades, cheap and quick. Canada’s Public Sector Pension Investment Board bought up the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station and Turners Falls hydro complex last year as part of PSP Investments. Their New England power play comes in the middle of the 5-year relicensing process for both facilities. That Federal Energy Regulatory Commission process will decide future conditions impacting this four-state ecosystem for decades.

The long-failed Cabot Station Fish Ladder on the Connecticut and competing flows flushing down the Turners Falls Power Canal’s Emergency Spillway. (Note:CLICK, THEN CLICK AGAIN TO ENLARGE.)

Thus, PSP may soon hold sway over what’s long been the most desolate 10-mile stretch of the entire Connecticut. It includes 2.1 miles of riverbed sitting empty for months at a time below Turners Falls Dam. It also includes the reach where, nearly 20 years back, federal fisheries expert Dr. Boyd Kynard found his boat being yanked backward—the Connecticut pulled into reverse by the suction of the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station while he was drifting for bass a mile downstream near the French King Bridge. Looked at fully, it encompasses the entire reach where a 50 year federal migratory fisheries restoration program has long foundered.

On March 7th, after four years of meetings, thousands of pages of reports–and with volumes of study information incomplete and disputed, owners of these FirstLight-branded facilities are hoping select interests agree to take licensing talks underground. They’ll be fishing for backroom deals at a Boston area hotel well before this process has had a full public vetting. FL wants to take this little party private, fast. They’re asking invitees to agree to an embargo on public information about settlement talks, positions and decisions.

The key phrase in their invitation reads: “Because this meeting is intended to initiate confidential settlement discussions, it will not be open to the press or general public.” That’s FirstLight’s Director of Massachusetts Hydro Gus Bakas. His selected invitees include the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration(Sean McDermott), US Fish & Wildlife Service(John Warner), US Geological Survey(Alex Haro), MA Fish & Wildlife(Caleb Slater), towns including Erving, Gill, Northfield, Montague, the Franklin Regional Council of Governments, The Nature Conservancy(Katie Kennedy), the Connecticut River Watershed Council(Andrew Fisk), and American Whitewater(Bob Nasdor).

That FirstLight stipulation is part of the quick-bait to get stakeholders thinking the time is right to cut deals. Sign-up, shut up; then we’ll talk. Cash out with what you can get for your agency, town, non-profit; or your fun-time rafting interests. Promises from this venture capitalist firm–in what’s become an ownership merry-go-round for these facilities, will surely all come true.

Ironically, many of these invitees descend directly from those who failed to step in and step up for the decimated river here decades back. They’re agencies and so-called watchdogs who failed to enforce laws and conditions negotiated when they were signatories to settlement talks for NMPS and Turners Falls nearly 40 years back–and for the 1999 FERC license negotiated for Holyoke Dam as well. At that site, Holyoke Gas & Electric just finally completed required improvements for endangered shortnose sturgeon last spring. Their license had mandated they be completed in 2008. Eight years, nine–no suits, no injunctions; no action.

Maybe that’s because the Watershed Council’s board chair works for HG & E, or because a significant number of board members are retirees from the region’s legacy power companies. Or, might it be because CRWC receives grant monies from National Marine Fisheries, US Fish & Wildlife, and MA Division of Fisheries, that these agencies were never taken to court for the withering spawning conditions and crippling flows experienced by federal trust American shad and federally endangered sturgeon in the reaches from Turners Falls to Northfield?

So who can our river look to for environmental protections under the National Environmental Policy Act, the Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the Clean Water Act in the future?

Fourteen months remain in this relicensing. Key reports won’t be available until April, while other critical study information won’t be out until July. Some studies may need repeating. The best future for New England’s River will not be well served by quick-and-dirty agreements made in the shadows. Remember, Dear Stakeholders, it’s your names that will be forever associated with the conditions on a future Connecticut River—the river your grandchildren will be relying on. This is no time to sell the Connecticut short. What’s your price for a river’s soul?

Karl Meyer of Greenfield is on the Fish and Aquatics Study Team in the FERC relicensing for the Northfield Mountain and Turners Falls hydro facilities. He is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists.

(Note: Bob Nasdor is former director of the Massachusetts Commission on Open Government.)

END