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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…

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)

CONNECTICUT RIVER DEADBEAT DEFENSE: endangered species habitat orphaned–again

Posted by on 29 Mar 2021 | Tagged as: Connecticut River Atlantic Salmon Commission, Connecticut River Conservancy, Connecticut River shortnose sturgeon, Connecticut River Watershed Council, endangerd shortnose sturgeon, Endangered Species Act, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, FirstLight Power Resources, Julie Crocker, National Marine Fisheries Service, NMFS, NOAA, Nolumbeka, shortnose sturgeon, Silvio O. Conte Connecticut River National Fish and Wildlife Refuge, Turners Falls power canal, Uncategorized, US Environmental Protection Agency, water lab

Photo Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer

This is the Rock Dam pool in the Connecticut River at Montague MA on March 10, 2021–just a month from the date male Connecticut River shortnose sturgeon will begin arriving here at the only documented natural spawning habitat for this federal- and state- endangered migrant in this ecosystem. The Rock Dam has been bathed in a grim red soup leaching out of the failing riverbanks adjacent to the Turners Falls power canal–just 400 feet distant, throughout the fall and winter. The riverbanks continue to crumble and ooze into this cobble lined pool today.

What is contained in the red sludge oozing from the crumbling banks besides the long-known iron and manganese? Is it harmful to developing early life stage sturgeon? What is its source, with the diverted Connecticut’s flow looming just above and 400 feet away–as pulses of its current are run through the Turners Falls power canal? Is it actually the Connecticut River trying to return to its own natural riverbed? Is the canal dike failing? Who is responsible for stopping the riverbank failures here–for enforcing the Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act, to name just a few–at the Commonwealth and at the federal levels??

And, where oh where can you find a river watchdog with a legal team, an enforcement mandate, and an injunction weeks before these endangered fish return? Certainly not on the Connecticut River.

Clean water. Healthy habitat. Thriving communities. That is the banner slogan of the Connecticut River Watershed Council, recently renamed the Connecticut River Conservancy. Here is a month old statement from that outfit: “We’re not going to test it,” Andrew Fisk, Director, Connecticut River Conservancy. Fisk, who has a water quality testing lab at his Greenfield office, also sits at the head of the Connecticut River Atlantic Salmon Commission. The CRC also sits on the CT River Streambank Erosion Committee, and sponsors cultural programming that would beg an investigation and the preservation of the failing banks at this ancient fishing site.


March 10, 2021. Looking up the Connecticut River’s grim failing riveranks on FirstLight Power-owned property at the Rock Dam site in Cabot Woods, adjacent to the TF power Canal.Photo Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer

NATIONAL MARINE FISHERIES SERVICE out of Gloucester MA, under the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, has lead responsibility for the Connecticut River shortnose sturgeon. Shortnose sturgeon fall under their Office of Protected Resources. Though their representatives including Kimberly Damon-Randall, Julie Crocker, and and Michael Pentony have attended some of the bi-annual federal-state meetings here on the Connecticut, NMFS has sat mum and on its hands, as the critical habitat continues failing for the shortnose sturgeon at Rock Dam. No investigation, no protection, no worries.

TEXT IMMEDIATELY BELOW IS FROM THE NOAA/NMFS website:

“NOAA Fisheries and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service share responsibility for implementing the ESA. NOAA Fisheries is responsible for endangered and threatened marine and anadromous species—from whales and seals to sharks, salmon, and corals.

Under the ESA, the federal government has the responsibility to protect:
Endangered species—species that are in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of their range.
Threatened species—species that are likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future.
Critical habitat—specific areas that are:

Within the geographical area occupied by the species at the time of listing, if they contain physical or biological features essential to conservation, and those features may require special management considerations or protection.”


March 11, 2021. Here, a woman stands in the a compact-car size sink hole along with disappearing hemlock saplings on the Connecticut River bank that’s slumping into Rock Dam spawning habitat.Photo Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer


Here that same woman stands looking directly up at that sink hole from below on the Connecticut River bank. She’s seen atop further, newer slumping sludge now heading into the river and Rock Dam spawning habitat on March 11, 2021.Photo Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer

Photo Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer

And these following three pictures, all from March 28,2021–less than two weeks before the first shortnose sturgeon arrive here, show the grim and burgeoning sludge and intrusions into critical Connecticut River spawning habitat at the Rock Dam. The main stem river in all photos is to the left.

Riverbank and species protection here, both federal and state, falls under the current Federal Energy Regulatory Commission license to operate facilities on the Connecticut River.

How can so many institutions fail so miserably at protecting the public’s river?


Connecticut River at Rock Dam, March 28,2021Photo Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer


Sludge running into the Connecticut River at Rock Dam, March 28, 2021.Photo Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer

REIMAGINING A RIVER: The Year without Northfield Mountain

Posted by on 01 Jun 2020 | Tagged as: American shad, Clean Water Act, Connecticut River, Connecticut River Atlantic Salmon Commission, Connecticut River Coordinator, Connecticut River pollution, Connecticut River Watershed Council, CRASC, Daily Hampshire Gazette, EPA, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, FirstLight, fish passage, Gary Sanderson, Greenfield, hatchery, Holyoke Dam, ISO New England, Larry Parnass, MA Division of Fish and Wildlife, migratory fish, Northfield Mountain, Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Project, Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Reservoir, Old Saybrook CT, pumped storage, Riverkeeper, salmon, salmon hatchery, The Daily Hampshire Gazette, The Greenfield Recorder, The Recorder, Turners Falls dam, Turners Falls power canal, US Environmental Protection Agency, USFWS

THIS GREAT AND BROKEN RIVER VII

Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Issue # 7, Part 1, REIMAGINING A RIVER: The Year without Northfield Mountain


Sunderland Bridge over the Connecticut. Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. (Click X 3 to enlarge, back arrows to return to text)

AUTHOR’S NOTE: I have found it difficult to write these past days. I am heartsick for my country. Are we to be a fair, generous and courageous people, or just a collection of frightened, soulless bystanders? What world do we want our children to grow up into? I have not been without a few tears at times over the past week. But, I know that good work and living rivers benefit all; they do not hate, judge, murder, or discriminate. So, noting that all of us have some heart-work to do, I continue here, with this also…

On May 1, 2010, I began a 5-day cycling trip from Greenfield MA, downstream to Long Island Sound and back again along the Connecticut River. I set out by bike to highlight and blog about the massively wasteful and misplaced emphasis on the forever-failed, hatchery-produced, 40 year-old salmon program for the river. Meanwhile, across the preceding decade, the formerly growing and robust American shad runs had concurrently experienced precipitous declines in fish passage returns at Holyoke Dam. More importantly, the shad run was literally flirting with extinguishment upstream of the Turners Falls Dam.


Miserable shad tally board at TF Fishway, 2007. Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. (Click X 3 to enlarge, back arrows to return to text)

The plunge at Turners Falls had taken hold pretty much simultaneously with the implementation of newly-legislated electricity deregulation in Massachusetts. It gave owners of the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station a license to unleash new, lucrative and disruptive flow regimes in the river—just 5 miles upstream of Turners Falls Dam. Ironically, that same May Day when I left for the mouth of the river, was the day that Northfield Mountain was scheduled to shut down to begin mucking out the decade’s worth of silt and muck they’d inhaled up into their 4-billion gallon mountaintop reservoir.


Cyclist’s Shad Dinner, Saybrook CT. Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. (Click X 3 to enlarge, back arrows to return to text)

Unbeknownst to me–and to NMPS management, once they shut down and started draining their reservoir that net energy loss contraption would not suction the river again for over half a year. They broke their regenerating plant; their muck half-filling the mile-long tunnels connecting it to the river. FirstLight then tried to hide their plight and the evidence as they turned around and massively polluted the river for months. That came to an abrupt halt when the EPA(remember them?) issued a “Cease and Desist” order against them extensive violations of the Clean Water Act.

But, a great upshot benefit soon came into focus: with the river not suctioned and ramping up-and-down at Northfield, successful fish passage at Turners Falls Dam jumped back to well over 400% over 2009 totals–leaping to 16,422 shad passing in 2010(though likely significantly more, since FirstLight’s fish counting software was curiously ‘inoperable’ on 17 different days that spring), while just 3,813 shad squeezed past Turners Falls in 2009. Overall, that 2010 rise peaked at over 500% above that decade’s previous passage averages there. I returned to Greenfield on May 5, 2010, and learned of NMPS’s disastrous de-watering that same afternoon. It was of great interest, but its significance wouldn’t be understood for weeks until the unusual and increasing shad tallies passing Turners began coming in.

Just 3 years earlier, after spending over half a decade working at the Northfield Mountain Recreation Center (where I’d even for a time been secretary for the Safety Committee up inside the pumped storage power plant), I quit. The dismal shad runs, just downstream, were chewing on my soul.


Lynde Pt. Light at the River’s Mouth, Old Saybrook CT. Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. (Click X 3 to enlarge, back arrows to return to text)

By that May of 2010, I’d been doing part-time work for the Connecticut River Watershed Council for a few years. I immediately informed the Council of Northfield’s predicament when I got back. Sadly, I then had to watch their back-seat, kid-gloves handling of an opportunity to prosecute and hold the power company responsible for massive pollution. They stayed quietly in the background, letting the Massachusetts DEP and MA Div. of Fish & Wildlife take charge of holding FirstLight’s feet to the fire. It was a massive opportunity to begin taking on the gross daily river depredations of Northfield Mountain, but it was mostly just squandered here in Massachusetts.

The Commonwealth and MA Fish & Wildlife did little, though some effort by MA DEP and Natural Heritage ultimately bargained for a study of erosion effects on endangered dragonflies as some sort of restitution. I later felt compelled to quit the Watershed Council, which I did five months later. They weren’t players, likely because their board was full of former power company managers and folks still working as consultants, who might see some power company contract work in the future. It was just wrong that–as one of the oldest river organizations on the East Coast, they didn’t have a single lawyer on staff, nor have a mission that mandated enforcement. This was no Riverkeeper.

It wasn’t really until early that June that I began to realize the full ramifications of Northfield’s shutdown. Fish passage numbers just began creeping higher and higher at Turners Falls. I attended a June 22nd meeting of the Connecticut River Atlantic Salmon Commission (CRASC)—the Congressionally-authorized fed/state fisheries organization charged with managing and protecting migratory fish on the Connecticut. I asked the agency reps if they’d noticed the numbers and whether they’d been doing any studies on the relationship between the big shad passage at Turners and the turbine disaster upstream at Northfield. “We haven’t looked at it,” said a relatively new USFWS Connecticut River Coordinator Ken Sprankle.


Jilted American shad flashes CRASC attendees at the TF Power Canal. Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. (Click X 3 to enlarge, back arrows to return to text)

Even then, I was as yet unaware that NMPS was STILL not operating. But I got a curious look from FirstLight’s Bob Stira, also in attendance, when I posed that question. That look–and the immediate notice of the shutdown of Northfield Mountain’s reservoir trails that same afternoon, is what soon sent me on a recon trip with a camera up to that reservoir. I started crunching numbers and writing. On a Sunday morning one week later I found an unposted back woods trail up to the reservoir, and there was the whole story.

Days earlier, I’d independently handed over some initial fish passage numbers and gave a few pointed quotes in an email to Gary Sanderson, sports and outdoors editor at The Recorder. Gary enthusiastically included them in his column along with his own comments. The following week, after FirstLight’s sudden and inexplicable closure of trails leading to the reservoir–plus immediately moving their riverboat tour boarding site from Northfield down to Barton Cove in Gill, I snuck up and took a photo of that emptied reservoir with two fat earth movers sitting silent in the silt-filled bed.


Emptied Northfield Mountain Reservoir. Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. (Click X 3 to enlarge, back arrows to return to text)

Their riverboat got moved downriver to hide from the public the chocolate colored river that Northfield’s dumping was creating at intake tunnels next to the Riverview dock site. The silt cloud reached all the way down to the French King Bridge.


Muck-plagued Connecticut River beneath the French King Bridge. Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. (Click X 3 to enlarge, back arrows to return to text)

In late June, Daily Hampshire Gazette Editor Larry Parnass ran my rather telling Northfield Reservoir photo above my expository OpEd bringing to light the disaster there–and the surprise fish passage bonanza occurring at Turners Falls Dam. It wasn’t until the first week of August that the EPA finally stepped in to order FirstLight to cease and desist. They’d been dumping the equivalent of 40-50 dump truck loads of reservoir muck directly into the Connecticut for over 90 straight days. That EPA order would keep Northfield shutdown well into November.

Despite Northfield’s claims of the usefullness of its daily input, and the touted critical emergency readiness of their net-energy loss machine to the grid, no one in New England went without electricity in the long months their river-strangling contraption was lifeless. The only mourners during its 7 month coma appeared to be two climate-change cheerleaders: ISO-New England and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Yet even during a long hot summer–one in which Vermont Yankee shut down for a week to refuel, everyone had essential power. The public didn’t miss Northfield, the shad run blossomed, and a river came back to life.

Why no FISH?, STILL???

Posted by on 30 Apr 2019 | Tagged as: American shad, Atlantic salmon, Bellows Falls Fishway, blueback herring, Connecticut River, Connecticut River Atlantic Salmon Commission, Connecticut River migratory fisheries restoration, Connecticut River Watershed Council, CRASC, Daily Hampshire Gazette, Dr. Boyd Kynard, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, federal trust fish, FERC, FirstLight, Gary Sanderson, Greenfield Recorder, Holyoke Fish Lift, MA Division of Fish and Wildlife, Montague Reporter, National Marine Fisheries Service, National Marine Fisheries Service, NOAA, Northfield Mountain, Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station, Public Law 98-138, Rock Dam, shad, shortnose sturgeon, The Greenfield Recorder, The Recorder, Turners Falls, Turners Falls power canal, Uncategorized, US Fish & Wildlife Service, US Geological Survey's Conte Fish Lab, Vernon Dam Fishway

The disastrously-emptied Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Reservoir, June 27, 2010. (CLICK, then Click several times more for FULLEST VIEW) Copyright © 2019 by Karl Meyer. All Rights Reserved.

WHY no FISH…
All photos and text Copyright © 2019 by Karl Meyer. All Rights Reserved.

By clicking on the blue link WHY no FISH… above, and then clicking it again on the following page, you will open an old PowerPoint presentation that I gave to the Pioneer Valley Chapter of Trout Unlimited in Holyoke in December 2010. It will take several minutes to load, but is then largely self-explanatory, with text available below photos, or by clicking the text tab.

On April 30, 2010 I embarked on a journey to the mouth of the Connecticut River by bicycle, to document the grim crippling of the river and its shad runs due to the lack of enforcement and engagement of fisheries agencies and river organizations. At the time, they were all still cheerleaders for a failed salmon program, ignoring the stark facts of the impacts of the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Project on American shad and federally endangered shortnose sturgeon.

At the time I was doing part-time work at the Connecticut River Watershed Council, but quit out of frustration and disappointment just a few months after.

Notably, just a year later, the US Fish & Wildlife Service cancelled its long-failed salmon hatchery and “restoration” program on the Connecticut. A year after that, the river conversation became about the impacts of flows in the Dead Reach of the Connecticut, and Dr. Boyd Kynard’s groundbreaking book focusing on federally endangered shortnose sturgeon at the Rock Dam was released–though only following an unconscionable 3-month embargo of his research data by the US Geological Service.

Nearly a decade later, Northfield Mountain remains the Connecticut River ecosystem’s deadliest machine, directly impacting riverine life and migratory fish abundance in three states.

The Connecticut River now has TWO “conservancies”, but not a single NGO that makes any claims for ENFORCEMENT being a chief (or really ANY) component of their mandate. And ENFORCEMENT is a requisite for any true ecosystem restoration and river protection outfit that means to carry out its mission. This is a four-state ecosystem without a legal team. The Connecticut remains a river unprotected.

ONE WILDLY ILL-ADVISED RIDE

Posted by on 31 Jul 2016 | Tagged as: AMC, American Whitewater, Appalachian Mountain Club, Connecticut River Atlantic Salmon Commission, Connecticut River migratory fisheries restoration, Connecticut River shortnose sturgeon, Connecticut River Watershed Council, CRWC, Dead Reach, Dr. Boyd Kynard, EOEEA, Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, federally-endangered shortnose sturgeon, Fish and Aquatics Study Team, GDF-Suez FirstLight, Jack Buckley, John Bullard, MA Division of Fish and Wildlife, NMFS, NOAA, Regional Director of the National Marine Fisheries Service, Secretary Matthew Beaton, Society of Environmental Journalists, University of Massachusetts, US Fish & Wildlife Service, US Geological Survey's Conte Fish Lab, Wendi Weber

The following piece appeared in The Recorder, www.recorder.com on July 30, 2016, under the heading, “Rafting over prime sturgeon habitat unwise; State officials need to be smarter.”

Copyright © 2016 by Karl Meyer

ONE WILDLY ILL-ADVISED RIDE

A photo from May 25, 2016 posted on American Whitewater’s website shows Massachusetts’ Secretary of the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs Matthew Beaton and his staff lumbering across a small run of Connecticut River whitewater on a large raft. The short rapid they just surfed over is at a place called Rock Dam. It drops directly into a small, crescent-shaped pool–the sole natural spawning and nursery site for the federally-endangered Connecticut River shortnose sturgeon.

That Turners Falls site is the last place you’d want to see the Commonwealth’s highest environmental official rafting in May. Rock Dam is critical habitat for survival of the river’s most endangered migratory fish. There’s no other place like it in the ecosystem. It’s also where the state-endangered yellow lamp mussel was last recorded in this reach. Ecological protection is key to preserving the natural heritage there for future generations.

Why Secretary Beaton was at Rock Dam on the heels of the state’s failure to protect endangered timber rattlesnakes in their remaining habitat is a puzzlement. That site is literally where the Connecticut has long been left for dead. Each spring it is alternately starved and inundated—making spawning and survival of young for shortnose sturgeon nearly impossible. Rapid pumped storage hydro fluctuations also help make successful upstream passage for wild American shad, sea lamprey, and blueback herring a 1-in-10 proposition above Turners Falls.

The EOEEA was joyriding on “test” flows returned there specifically for environmental protection. They were meant to allow wild fish to reenter critical habitats where they might successfully gather; then spawn—in a natural pool that would subsequently nurture developing young in critical weeks lasting through mid-June. Those flows were delineated by John Bullard, Regional Director of the National Marine Fisheries Service, to not drop below minimum thresholds that would drive spawning sturgeon out. NMFS mandated the higher limits through June 3rd to ensure sturgeon had sufficient time there. That meant healing water for the most impoverished 2.7 miles of habitat on the entire 410 mile Connecticut.

The shortnose is a dinosaur-age fish—a yard-long creature with a shark-like tail and toughened leathery “scutes” instead of spindly scales. It’s the second species listed under the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act, and the most exhaustively studied endangered migratory fish in the river. It has long had a federal recovery plan, one now including the boatload of science documenting building blocks necessary for its survival. None call for boaters bashing over them during spawning gatherings, or beaching in shallows where developing embryos shelter. If this iconic fish is ever to begin the road back from the brink of extinction, mandated protections and uninterrupted flows are critical at Rock Dam.

Dr. Boyd Kynard, formerly of the US Fish & Wildlife Service, the USGS Conte Lab and UMass, led the 17 years of studies that documented Rock Dam as the species’ sole natural spawning site in the ecosystem. He recently stated, “As to protection of the pre-spawning, spawning, and rearing area at Rock Dam, exclusion dates for boating should be the same as the dates for water flow, 15 March to 15 June.”

A “watered” Rock Dam had long-offered sturgeons a wide choice of depths and flow levels they could selectively adjust, and readjust to, when natural surface flow or river temperatures fluctuated beyond optimal conditions for spawning. And that cobble and sand pool was ideal for dispersing tiny eggs and young. Only when flow is present does Rock Dam regain its function as an ancient species shelter, protecting early life stages in currents circulating through cobbled shoals.

In the current 5-year Federal Energy Regulatory Commission relicensing process that will govern hydro operations and ecological conditions here for decades, the Connecticut River Watershed Council and Appalachian Mountain Club are jointly advocating new access points into this delicate habitat for whitewater interests. Both have sat at FERC hearings where Rock Dam has been delineated as critical habitat. In joint AMC-CRWC testimony to FERC they’ve argued their interests in increased flows stem from aquatic habitat concerns, as well as recreation desires. Yet it was AMC that posted dates of those ecological study flows to their website, urging whitewater enthusiasts to exploit them: “Fish Study to Provide Paddling Opportunities: May – June 2016”

Secretary Beaton needs better advice.

Several expert appointees represent the Commonwealth on the Connecticut River Atlantic Salmon Commission. Jack Buckley, Director of MA Fisheries and Wildlife studied Connecticut River shortnose sturgeon at UMass. Mr. Buckley’s Anadromous Fish Project Leader Caleb Slater is also well versed on critical Rock Dam habitat. And the US Fish & Wildlife’s Region 5 Director Wendi Weber also sits at that CRASC table. Dr. Weber studied shortnose sturgeon in Georgia’s rivers. Ultimately, turning a failing Connecticut River migratory fisheries restoration in Massachusetts into a success story will require government leaders embracing solid government science.

Karl Meyer is on the Fish and Aquatics Study Team for FERC hydro-relicensing studies of the Turners Falls and Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage projects. He is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists.

New CT River Stakeholder Comments Submitted to FERC

Posted by on 14 Nov 2014 | Tagged as: American shad, By Pass Reach, Cabot Station, Connecticut River, Connecticut River Atlantic Salmon Commission, Connecticut River shortnose sturgeon, Dr. Boyd Kynard, endangerd shortnose sturgeon, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, FERC, FirstLight, GDF-Suez FirstLight, National Marine Fisheries Service, NMFS, Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station, shortnose sturgeon, Turners Falls dam, Turners Falls power canal, US Fish & Wildlife Service, USFWS, Vermont

The following Stakeholder Comments/Requests on FERC Projects P-1889 and P-2485, Turners Falls Hydro and Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage were submitted on November 13, 2014 to the Secretary of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Karl Meyer, M.S. Environmental Science
85 School Street # 3
Greenfield, MA, 01301                                                              November 13, 2014

The Honorable Kimberly D. Bose, Secretary
Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
88 First Street, NE
Washington, DC 20426

ILP COMMENTS–including: Disagreements/Modifications to Study/Propose New Study on Turners Falls Hydroelectric Project P- 1889, and Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Project P-2485.

Dear Secretary Bose,

The Turners Falls Hydroelectric Project, P-1889, and the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Project, P-2485, are currently undergoing studies through the 5-year FERC relicensing process in order to continue plant operations beyond 2018. An Initial Study Report Meeting Summary has been filed by GDF-Suez FirstLight. Please accept these comments on the ISR and my proposals for modifications and new study requirements in the FERC ILP for these projects.

3.3.11 Fish Assemblage Assessment:

Further information/study needed:

FirstLight has declined to undertake any study in the By Pass Reach of the Connecticut River due to stated concerns of interference with spawning and development of embryos of federally endangered shortnose sturgeon in this area. Information from the 2009 EPA study is insufficient to quantify presence and abundance of resident and migratory fish in this reach during critical migration and spawning periods—April through June. That investigation used only 3 sites in the By Pass Reach and was not undertaken to illuminate key species requirements in the current ILP for this critical reach.

NMFS notes that FirstLight has failed to consult with stakeholders on SNS issues here. I am in agreement with USFWS that a dedicated snorkeling, SCUBA, or hookah diving assessment of this critical reach of the four-state CT River be conducted in the riverbed between the Turners Falls Dam and downstream of Cabot Station during the April-June migration and spawning window–and that it continue after FirstLight’s suggested June 30 beginning target date.

I personally snorkeled parts of this reach in May 2013 and found that identification of migrants and resident species was easily attained. An in-situ investigation of this river reach in order to assess species presence and relative abundance is necessary groundwork for making decisions that will impact the 45-year long fisheries restoration on the Connecticut.

Dr. Boyd Kynard, who FirstLight cites in their argument and who spent decades investigating shortnose sturgeon on this reach of the Connecticut told me (personal communication 11/12/2014) that this study method can be accomplished without impacting SNS from the pool below the Rock Dam upstream to the base of Turners Falls Dam.

3.3.12 Evaluate Frequency and Impact of Emergency Water Control Gate Discharge Events and Bypass Flume Events on Shortnose Sturgeon Spawning and Rearing Habitat in the Tailrace and Downstream from Cabot Station.

Further information/study needed: FirstLight has supplied a grid of information for emergency gate and by pass flume openings for the years 2005 – 2012, though 2010 is missing, and we have no information on gate openings and placement for 2011 and 2012 in some instances, other than that there were no instances when greater than 4 emergency flume gates were open.

This study information should be updated with full information for years 2011, 2012—as well as 2013 and 2014 gate opening numbers, placements and CFS information.

Study findings from Kynard and Keiffer, as well as the long-term study of SNS in this reach catalogued in Life History and Behaviour of Connecticut River Shortnose and Other Sturgeons, published by the World Sturgeon Society, 2012, specifically delineate emergency and canal flume gate spill as having a profound and deleterious impact on shortnose sturgeon spawning and early life stage development.

As was stated recently by sturgeon biologist Micah Kieffer at a fall 2014 meeting of the Connecticut River Atlantic Salmon Commission, “one instance” of ramped-up or ramped-down flow from TF dam or emergency spill gate and flume operation can abruptly terminate or abort spawning attempts at Rock Dam and below Cabot Station by federally-endangered SNS for the entire year. Operations of emergency and by pass flume gates on the TF canal also can have deadly parching or burying impacts SNS embryos.

FirstLight contends that its operations of Bypass flume gates above Cabot Station are aimed at either emergency load rejection at Cabot Station, or opened to flush debris. They also contend that it is rare to have more than one flume spill gate open, though most of the numbers belie this statement–and the number of days when 4 or more gates have been open during SNS spawning window is highly significant and impactful. Opening of 4 flume gates needlessly diverts flows approaching 4,000 CFS out of the Connecticut’s By Pass Reach at TF Dam, and sends it into the canal to be needlessly flushed back into the river in a configuration that impacts migratory species and imperils annual spawning attempts of the federally-endangered CT River shortnose sturgeon.

In May 2014, I personally witnessed 3 consecutive days when two or more spill gates were open at the TF canal bypass above Cabot—all at the same time of day: 12:25 pm. These openings occurred while both Station 1 and Cabot were generating, which would appear to indicate that the spill gates had been left in this position for hours, or perhaps days, as part of flow regulation in the canal–rather than emergency or debris clearing. I have sent this information to both FERC and the federal and state fisheries agencies.

It is clear to anyone who examines the TF power canal that it is mostly a lake-like, slow-water habitat, save for the thalweg. It is rare to see debris of any significant size floating in the canal. It gets culled off at the trash racks in front of the TF Gatehouse, or at racks on the canal that dog-leg off to Station 1, or it simply settles out in the lake section of the TF Canal.

The minor amount of small, floating debris that enters the fat part of the canal is culled off by the trash rack skirt above Cabot that steers it to the east side of the canal where a bascule gate can be operated to pass anything of significant size.

The continuous openings of two or more bypass gates, up to six and seven gates open on a “non-emergency” basis on the TF canal above Cabot Station during SNS spawning and early life stage periods threatens the recovery of the Connecticut River’s only federally endangered migratory species.

As I have witnessed, multiple gates open on the canal while both Station 1 and Cabot were in operation indicates that canal flow is at times being regulated at this site, rather than at the TF Gatehouse, where excess flow could be delivered to the river in the Bypass Reach, which would nourish, rather than destroy SNS chances for successful spawning at Rock Dam and below Cabot. During SNS spawning season, mid-April – June 30th, endangered species protections dictate that all flow, save for documented, specific emergency situations, by controlled at the Head Gates of the Turners Falls Dam.

Information for years 2013 and 2014 should further be included, and a Study and study season for 2015 should be implemented that documents both the reason and instances when emergency gates were open—and any flume gates above 1 that were open to vent flow from the canal to the ByPass.

I would also like to FERC to have FirstLight include information for 2010, as the May 4 time of 8-gate emergency spill operation occurred exactly at the time frame when Northfield Mountain had burped up a massive sediment spill into its intake, and was trying to flush that pollution downstream. It would be helpful to know the position of both the Bypass flume gates and the positions of TF Dam headgates and bascule and tainter gates at that juncture—as it most definitely impacted SNS present for spawning that year. This would again offer data on whether the TF canal flows were being regulated via emergency by pass flume operation.

3.3.14 Aquatic Mapping of Turners Falls Impoundment:

Further information/study needed:

If migratory fish targeted for restoration in Northern Massachusetts and Vermont and New Hampshire are to continue to be diverted into the TF Power Canal, where few emerge upstream, then an addition to this study should be conducted: Aquatic Mapping of the Turners Falls Power Canal—as it is technically an extension of the Turners Falls Impoundment, and the public has a right to understand the habitat where their fish get privatized.

3.3.18 Impacts of the Turners Falls Canal Drawdown on Fish Migration and Aquatic Organisms

Further information/study needed:

The 2014 Canal Drawdown study was flawed as it occurred over the course of two days, due to an error in spill gate function. Since this is a study of live and dead fish and organisms, as well as the presence of dissolved oxygen, a two-day study time frame represents a flawed evaluation. A night of drying, predation, and fluctuating oxygen presence confounds the results of this work. FirstLight does an annual drawdown of the canal—has down so for decades, thus a mistake at the time of a critical habitat study should corrected by conducting a second year of study.

Further, since FERC has ordered that FL conduct a study of American shad spawning in the TF Canal, it is important to note another anomaly in their canal drawdown work. At five-year intervals the TF Canal receives a full canal muck-out during drawdown. The last one occurred in 2009. This would have been the fifth year—a time when the major muck-out would occur. It did not happen. What occurred was canal “light”, with a large snafu in the middle of the one day study, making it a two day effort. Whether FL agrees that this should have occurred in 2014 or not, a big-dig in the canal is needed regularly, as the sludge, silt and muck settles out and fills in the wide part of the basin.

This must be figured into the “impacts” of the drawdown, as it has profound implications for forcing migratory fish into this habitat, as well as the survival of resident fish and aquatics.

Please see attached photo of the canal muck-out that I took in 2009.

This is the habitat all upstream migrants are diverted into at Turner Falls

This is the habitat all upstream migrants are diverted into at Turner Falls

 

3.3.19 Evaluate the Use of an Ultrasound Array to Facilitate Upstream Movement of Migratory Fish to Turners Falls Dam by Avoiding Cabot Station Tailrace

Further information/study needed: the need for this 2016 study will be fully realized if planned studies of American shad movement and spawning in the canal confirm that these fish are experiencing significant migratory delay, and are being coralled into a migratory spawning trap by confused and insurmountable flows or pre-mature warming in artificial habitat that induces spawning in the canal—preventing fisheries restoration on the river in Northern Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont.

3.3.2 Evaluate Upstream and Downstream Passage of Adult American Shad

Further information/study needed: I concur with FERC’s requirements of an intensive array of radio and telemetry receivers throughout the TF Power Canal to track migrating shad in the canal.

However, I request that FERC require FirstLight, in consultation with stakeholders, add an array temperature monitors calibrated to the radio and telemetry sites to understand whether canal delays for American shad–lingering for an average of 8 days in the TF Canal, are forcing these fish to spawn in this privatized, lake-like habitat because of warmed, shallow, and slow water conditions.

3.3.6 Impact of Project Operations on Shad Spawning, Spawning Habitat and Egg Deposition in the Area of Northfield Mountain and Turners Falls Projects

Further information/study needed:
I concur with FERC that a full spawning study of the Turners Falls Power Canal be conducted in 2015, undertaken in consultation with stakeholders. Temperature monitors should be deployed to assess impact on migratory delay and spawning on-set; and cumulative impacts of head gate and by pass use of spill gates should be factored into the study to determine the impact of silt deposits on spawning success.

3.3.9 Two-Dimensional Modeling of the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Project Intake/Tailrace Channel and Connecticut River Upstream and Downstream of the Intake/Tailrace

Further information/study needed: In the Initial Study Report Study Meeting Summary for stakeholder in October 2014, a request was made that FirstLight provide vector maps with arrows and indication of directional flow around the Intake and Tailrace Channel at the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Project. This is critical information for flow, erosion, and sediment displacement and needs inclusion.

This is information that has been missing on Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Impacts since at least 1974. See attached at end of document.

Thank you for this opportunity to comment on these critical relicensing issues.

Sincerely,
Karl Meyer, M.S. Environmental Science
Greenfield, MA

1974 attached file below.

 

Double Standard on the Connecticut

Posted by on 09 Jul 2013 | Tagged as: American shad, Connecticut River Atlantic Salmon Commission, Connecticut River ecosystem, ecosystem, EPA, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, federal trust fish, federally-endangered shortnose sturgeon, FERC license, FirstLight, GDF-Suez FirstLight, MA Division of Fish and Wildlife, National Marine Fisheries Service, New Hampshire, Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Reservoir, Riverkeeper, Rutland Herald, shortnose sturgeon, Times Argus, Turners Falls power canal, US Fish & Wildlife Service, USFWS, Vermont

The following piece appeared in the Rutland Herald and the Barre-Montpelier Times-Argus during the first week of July.

Copyright © 2013, by Karl Meyer

This is the habitat all upstream migrants are diverted into at Turner Falls

This is the habitat all upstream migrants are diverted into at Turners Falls


                               A River Double Standard

On June 28, 2013, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Director of Energy Projects Jeff C. Wright ruled against the US Fish & Wildlife Service as it sought two extra weeks to review hundreds of pages of just-released Proposed Study Plans for the relicensing of five Connecticut River hydro projects. “The request for a 15-day EOT to file comments on the licensee’s proposed study plans is denied.”  EOT is FERC-speak for “extension of time.”  Those studies will impact this four-state river for the next 20-40 years. Agencies joining that request included the National Marine Fisheries Service, MA Div. of Fish & Wildlife, The Connecticut River Watershed Council, The Nature Conservancy, Trout Unlimited, the Franklin Regional Council of Governments, NH Dept. of Environmental Service and The Vermont Agency of Natural Resources.

One big reason for that request was the difficulties in evaluating the impacts of FirstLight’s Northfield Mountain/Turners Falls hydro operations on the entire Connecticut River ecosystem.  Beginning last fall, FERC began deviating from its standardized relicensing model when it scheduled public site visits to FirstLight sites weeks before the company released a publicly-required 500-page Pre-Application Document describing its complex pumped storage operations and machinery.

This spring FERC also supported FirstLight’s expedited-request to conduct a series of complicated river flow studies this summer—an allowance falling well outside FERC’s strict licensing timelines.  In doing so they let the company schedule three days of river visits by fed/state agencies smack in the middle of their deadline to comment on FirstLight’s 434-page Updated Proposed Study Plan.  FirstLight released that document June 28th; comments to FERC are due July 15, 2013.  Even after nine meetings with the power company and FERC, many agency representatives continued to decry the lack of critical scientific detail provided in FirstLight documents.  Those were put together by its team of five consulting firms.  Ironically, those handpicked FirstLight firms will conduct the next two years of river studies—the ones meant to protect the river.  A fox and chicken coop analogy applies.

FERC is employing a legal double standard here on the Connecticut.  If you a public agency or citizen seeking protections for the ecosystem—well, even little rules are THE RULES.  At the same time it appears corporations can continuously and sometimes massively ignore federal license requirements with impunity.

In FERC’s own words, the Commission “enforces the conditions of each license for the duration of its term, and conducts project safety and environmental inspections.”  Yet today Holyoke Gas & Electric is half a decade–and counting, in violation of its 2002 agreement to construct facilities to end the evisceration of federally endangered shortnose sturgeon and other “federal trust” fish migrating downstream at their Holyoke Dam facility.  So, why have a license at all? 

Upstream in 2010 GDF-Suez FirstLight dumped some of 45,000 cubic square yards of reservoir sludge directly into the Connecticut at Northfield Mountain over a 90-day period—the equivalent of 40 dump truck loads of muck per day, smack in the middle of fish migration season. Yet in current documents FERC states their inspections have never found FirstLight in violation of its license.

The US EPA found FirstLight in violation of the Clean Water Act in August of 2010 and ordered a massive clean-up, though the ecosystem damage was already done.  In an August 4, 2010 letter EPA sanctioned FirstLight for violating “FERC License No. 2485” and polluting the “navigable waters of the United States.”  A subsequent letter dated August 10, 2013 from FERC’s Biological Resources Branch Chief Steve Hocking to FirstLight Manager John Howard specifically referenced the EPA’s sanctions, directing him to “article 20 of your license.”  Yet there is virtually no FERC mention of that egregious violation in current relicensing documents.

That’s the standard that for-profit companies are held to here.  It rivals the Pirate Code.  Currently there is no watchdog entity on this river willing to go to the mat to protect the ecosystem.  If, like on the Hudson, there was an organization like Riverkeeper—which cites “enforcement” as one of its main responsibilities, these egregious injuries to the Connecticut would not likely stand.  Holyoke Gas & Electric would have been in court long ago for killing endangered sturgeon; and the full range of FirstLight’s lethal impacts on the Connecticut’s migratory fish when all are diverted into their turbine-filled power canal would’ve been fully investigated.  FERC’s inaction is a disgrace.

FERC Director Wright requested that questions regarding that EOT denial go to Ken Hogan at: 202-502-8434, or Kenneth.Hogan@ferc.gov. Ken has presided over the CT River relicensing hearings.  Also, you can find FirstLight’s 434-page “Updated Proposed Study Plan” at: www.northfieldrelicensing.com under Documents.  The public has until July 15, 2013 to send comments on that plan to FERC.  You do that at: www.ferc.gov/docs-filing/efiling.asp .  You must cite FirstLight’s project numbers, P-2485 and P-1889, and be sure to note that you are commenting on the “Updated Proposed Study Plan.”

Karl Meyer is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists. He lives in Greenfield, MA. Read more at: www.karlmeyerwriting.com

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