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The Connecticut River NOW! Defenders are taking their case directly to FERC; here’s why!

Posted by on 23 Jan 2022 | Tagged as: Connecticut River, Connecticut River Atlantic Salmon Commission, Connecticut River ecosystem, CRC, CRWC, Delaware LLC, Extinction, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, FERC, FERC Comments, FERC license, FirstLight, Jo Comerford, Landmark Supreme Court Decision 1872, MA Division of Fish and Wildlife, MA Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program, Massachusetts DEP, Massachusetts Division of Fish & Wildlife, Natalie Blais, Nation's best landscaped sewer, National Marine Fisheries Service, net-loss power, NMFS, Northfield Mountain, Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station, P-2485, Silvio O. Conte Connecticut River National Fish and Wildlife Refuge, Source to Sea Cleanup, US Environmental Protection Agency, US Fish & Wildlife Service, USFWS

DON’T BE DIVERTED: The Connecticut River NOW! Defenders taking their case directly to FERC; here’s why!

* * * POST UPDATE: letter from today’s (Tues. 1/25/22) Greenfield Recorder. It nicely outlines FirstLight/Northfield’s massive impacts on a SINGLE town: https://www.recorder.com/ltr-field-ConcernsAboutPumpingStation-44673061


Federal and state agency reps, plus CRC’s Andy Fisk at a meeting of the Connecticut River Atlantic Salmon Commission. The US Fish & Wildlife Service, MA Fisheries & Wildlife, and the Connecticut River Conservancy have all signed in FirstLight’s non-disclosure agreement as they meet in secret.

With scores of citizens stepping up to defend our ecosystem, FirstLight’s secret January deal plans for the river have been thwarted. And more are writing in… These are folks who understand that–while many of the planet’s ecosystems seem to be foundering, if you are offered ONE CHANCE to turn the light’s BACK ON after a half-century of a massively broken Connecticut River ecosystem at Northfield Massachusetts, you DO NOT SQUANDER THE OPPORTUNITY. Certainly not for those who come after…

* * * ALSO UPDATED: Please see the TWO latest FERC testimonies sent directly–and on-the-record to FERC, at the end of this post. * *

ALSO, tomorrow, TUESDAY, at 4 p.m., I speak with attorney Buz Eisenberg on: The Afternoon Buzz | Shows | WHMP 101.5 / 1240 & 1400 AM.


Some of my personal river heroes…

DON’T BE DIVERTED! A new, out-of-the-box, save our river “opportunity” is today being pedaled to the public by two non-profits–one of which has signed FirstLight’s non-disclosure agreement. It’s a vague, dangerous idea at this critical juncture–belatedly promising that a sleek state legal angle can magically be employed over the next year to rescue the Connecticut River at Northfield from another 50 years of ecosystem strangulation AFTER a FirstLight federal settlement deal has been sent along to FERC with state agency signatures.

Right now, the US Fish & Wildlife Service, Massachusetts Dept. of Environmental Protection, the National Marine Fisheries Service, and MA Div. Fisheries & Wildlife are meeting in secret negotiating sessions with Canadian-owned, Delaware LLC-registered FirstLight Power to try an ink a grizzly “settlment” agreement to relicense the deadly operation of the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station for the next 50 years. They’d wanted to have a signed deal by now that they could forward to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for approval. But strident public protest to FERC appears to be keeping state and federal agents from caving-in to another half century of a strangled Connecticut River.

The people are denying FirstLight from getting its way here.

This just-launched, last minute, state-pressure ploy comes off as both ridiculous and self-serving. THIS HAS BEEN A DECADE-LONG FEDERAL PROCESS–the tail won’t be wagging the dog here in Massachusetts on this four-state river system.

Once the SECRET DEAL in this slogging 10 year FERC process is inked at the highest levels–there will be NO magic mechanism at the MA wetlands level that has a snowballs-prayer-in hell to retrieve this crippled river from another half century of venture-capital devastation at Northfield. New England’s Great River will continue on as the “nation’s best landscaped” DEADLY sewer” here in Massachusetts. MA Dept. of Environmental Protection is at the backroom table in this process! Let’s be honest here…

Believing the brutal disruption, chaos and massive aquatic killing by FirstLight’s Northfield Mountain can be legislated ONCE a closed-door settlement deal is signed with the federal/state agencies meeting with Firstlight, is irresponsible MAGICAL THINKING. Some are even clinging to the notion that FERC will make a ruling ordering that BILLIONS AND BILLIONS of dollars must be spent to site, engineer and build a whole new Northfield reservoir that would exclude the use of river water. Think about that! Who would do it? Who would pay? It’s just not possible–or true.

BUT ALAS! FL is being thwarted in their plans by citizen input sent directly to FERC, with new, on-the-record statements demanding no new license be issued for deadly operations at Northfield, not another half century wasting massive amounts of energy to pull our river into reverse–literally for miles, in a buy-low/sell high 50 year profit scheme here in the Massachusetts.

AGAIN, if you haven’t yet submitted testimony–or know of others who want to defend our River’s right to survive as a living system, here’s the FERC formula to share:

Go to: www.ferc.gov; then to “Documents and Filings”; then click on the “Quick Links” tab for FERC Online on the right; and then to “eComment” on the page that opens. Follow directions for “Hydroelectric License/Re-license Proceedings (P – Project Number),” and BE SURE TO use Northfield’s FERC project number, P-2485, to enter your comments.

* * * HERE IS JUST THE LATEST citizen testimony entered into the record at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission:

Document Accession #: 20220125-5000 Filed Date: 01/25/2022
Andy Rothschild, Greenfield, MA.

Given the environmental challenges that our planet and its inhabitants face today and the increasing challenges that it will face over the next fifty years, it doesn’t make any sense to me to relicense the Northfield Station. The system requires more energy input to power itself than the energy that it will create. All the while, doing damage to the Connecticut River, its banks, and the fish within it. Please think long and hard about the damage
that would be done in the present and for the next crucial fifty years of our planet’s existence. Thank you.

Document Accession #: 20220124-5001 Filed Date: 01/24/2022
Anna, Arlington, MA.

I strongly oppose the relicensing of the Northfield Mountain hydroelectric plant. While shifting energy production to renewables is a pertinent step in battling the climate crisis, such a transition must be done in a manner that takes necessary precautions. This hydro plant reverses river flow and disrupts essential ecosystems of the Connecticut River. It is powered by
natural gas. These two facts alone are reason enough to reconsider calling this project “green” or, even remotely sustainable. The Connecticut River, home to globally significant tidelands and 10 federally threatened aquatic species, is a watershed that spans four different states: VT, NH, MA, and CT. An estimated 2 million people live in the CR watershed. It is with utmost importance that we protect the river, not further degrade it’s well-being. The Northfield Mountain hydro plant should therefore be denied
recertification.
Thank you.

Document Accession #: 20220121-5069 Filed Date: 01/21/2022
Christopher “Monte” Belmonte, Turners Falls, MA.

I live between the mighty Connecticut River and the Turners Falls Power Canal in a little island neighborhood called “The Patch.” The canal runs right past my backyard. I am a big believer in creating clean, fossil-fuel-free energy and I know that some of what First Light is doing is toward that end.
But it is unconscionable how much water is drawn from the river to keep the canal flush. I watch it go from a gorgeous raging river to a trickle from one day to the next, creating an ecological disaster for the aquatic life in that river. Specifically, the federally endangered shortnose sturgeon. Down the street from my house on the river at the so-called â€oeRock Dam†is one of
the best known, if not only, spawning locations of this endangered fish. And yet First Light continues to interfere with the flow of the river, even during spawning season. They might wipe out an entire species. And yet there is little to no acknowledgement of their risking ruining spawning year after year.

And no clear plan to stop under the new proposed license.
Further, the ecological disaster known as the Northfield Pump Storage station, which literally sucks the river flow backwards up to a mile away as it pumps, is also decimating what fish do manage to make it over their currently ineffective Fish Ladder in Turners Falls. While I’m pleased there will be a new way for fish to pass over the dam, until Northfield Mountain’s facility becomes a closed circuit, rather than a river sucking, fish massacring machine, First Light should not be granted a new license.
We have one chance left to save the shortnose sturgeon. If First Light is granted this license, as it is written, it’s game over for that federally endangered fish. This is a federal license. There is a fundamental disconnect in not doing our utmost to protect a federally endangered fish. And the disconnect between what good Northfield claims it provides, contrasted with
the uncountable millions of fish it is killing there each year is more than we who love our river can bear. Please reconsider this current license. Please make sure First Light is held to account and changes course before it changes the course of our river and its watershed.

RIVER SURVIVAL II: Walk-the-Walk for endangered shortnose sturgeon

Posted by on 11 May 2021 | Tagged as: Connecticut River ecosystem, Connecticut River shortnose sturgeon, CRC, CRWC, endangerd shortnose sturgeon, FirstLight, Northfield Mountain, Rock Dam, Turners Falls, Uncategorized, US Geological Survey


THE ROCK DAM Photo Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer

NOTE: Below you will find an invitation to visit The Rock Dam on May 22.

It offers an opportunity to bear witness–to show up and learn at the most magical, neglected, and critically-endangered natural spawning site in the Connecticut River ecosystem. This will be a program about history, and truth-telling, and the long, tenuous struggle of the shortnose sturgeon here. You’ll be right at the place where they spawn, though the surrounding conditions may be troubling. So this may not be a program for everyone.


Slurry flows into the Rock Dam pool Photo Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer

If you want something easier, maybe some greenwashing via an on-line program offered by those who have continued the ecosystem destruction here or sidestepped their responsibilities to take action, you might look at offerings from FirstLight/Northfield Mountain for May 18th, or the Watershed Council/CRC/USGS on May 19th. These will be more like armchair, promo productions–for those who like a good story from the sidelines.


Rafters descend on Rock Dam habitat. Photo Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer

The Rock Dam is a place that matters. I hope you can join me and others on a respectful visit to these ancient, critical and sadly disrespected spawning grounds. This May 22nd, on-site Rock Dam program will be about keeping faith with the river, its creatures, and the sanctity of a place that has offered life to all in this Valley for thousands of years.

* PROGRAM DETAILS BELOW *

RIVER SURVIVAL II: Walk-the-Walk for endangered shortnose sturgeon
Turners Falls: meet in parking lot at south end of G Street
Saturday, May 22, 2021
10:30 am – 12:30 pm

Join Karl Meyer on a walk to the Rock Dam—the critically endangered habitat and only documented natural spawning site for the federally-endangered Connecticut River shortnose sturgeon. Meyer intervened with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to stop the grim, eroding conditions created by the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Project and Turners Falls Dam. He’s written about sturgeon for years and authored the reknowned “Shortnose Stout” beer brand in 2013. Rock Dam is a 200 million year-old natural gem that’s helped keep the thread for this 100 million year old sturgeon species alive on the Connecticut for centuries. Learn about the shortnose’s life cycle and the industrial and natural history of this abused and undefended site going back to pre-dam times. Come, learn, protect.

Directions: Meet at the parking lot at the south end of G Street in Turners Falls for this 3/4 mile walk (1-1/2 mile round trip). Take Avenue A in Turners Falls to 11th Street. Cross the 11th St. Bridge over the canal and make the first left onto G Street. Follow G to parking lot just before the USGS Conte Anadromous Fish Research Center sign. Program runs rain or shine. ** ACCESS NOTE: this walk is mostly flat, but access to Rock Dam is on short steep terrain

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

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.

AN INSENSITIVITY OF PLACE

Posted by on 29 May 2016 | Tagged as: 5-year FERC licensing process, AMC, American Whitewater, Appalachian Mountain Club, By Pass Reach, Connecticut River, Connecticut River ecosystem, Connecticut River shortnose sturgeon, Connecticut River Watershed Council, CRWC, Dead Reach, ecosystem, endangerd shortnose sturgeon, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, federally-endangered shortnose sturgeon, FERC Comments, Gary Sanderson, Greenfield Recorder, New England FLOW, Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station, Rock Dam, Rock Dam Pool, Station 1, The Recorder, Turners Falls, Turners Falls dam, whitewater boating

An Insensitivity of Place

Copyright © 2016 by Karl Meyer (CLICK on any photo to ENLARGE)

DSCF8475

There’s a big difference between theory and practice. So too is there often a huge divide between what is said and what is done—and a giant gap between how you portray your intentions in writing, and how you actually carry yourself in the real world. The difference between those things is what most often turns out to be true.

At the Rock Dam, the endlessly-beleaguered and sole natural spawning site for the state- and federally-endangered shortnose sturgeon in the entire Connecticut River system, that difference came into high resolution last week. While I looked on four people in helmets and safety gear lumbered in a huge blue raft over the tiny, watered notch leading into that self-same shortnose sturgeon spawning pool. Four other decked-out compadres looked on admiringly from atop the low ledge that helped form this little ancient pool thousands of years back.

The “drop” for this joyride might have been a total of 4 feet at best, perhaps a third of the length of the giant boat. For any shortnose sturgeon that might have been using this unique ecological site to accomplish the most basic act of survival—spawning, it would’ve been the equivalent of the Starship Enterprise plopping down atop your kiddy pool party. Basically, party over. But hey, those fish are only the sole federally-endangered migratory species in the entire river. Hope you enjoyed the ridiculously short, half-second rush… Yahoo!

And the real kicker is, they were doing this within the known documented time-window at Rock Dam for shortnose sturgeon to be present and attempting to spawn successfully. This was a Sunday, but the previous Wednesday I’d seen rafts being trailered away from the site in the “Patch” section of Turners Falls. I didn’t quite put it together until Gary Sanderson’s column came out in The Recorder the next day, noting the obtuseness of rafters and kayakers he’d seen repeatedly making the same disrespectful maneuvers at Rock Dam earlier in the week.

DSCF8472

But here’s the theory and practice divide. During the current 5-year Federal Energy Regulatory Commission relicensing hearings for the Turners Falls and Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage projects, these whitewater groups have been at the table advocating for increased flows and access for the public on this short section of river. Chief among these have been American Whitewater and New England FLOW, with the Appalachian Mountain Club partnered with the Connecticut River Watershed Council submitting formal testimony in favor of whitewater boating interests here.

AMC and the Watershed Council in submitted testimony are advocating opening up this most-biologically-damaged stretch of the river for the last half century to increased access at three sites over a tiny reach that is just 2.7 miles long: “Improvements would need to be made to a put-in at the upstream end of the run downstream of Turners Falls dam, the take-out at Poplar Street, and access at No. 1 station and at the Rock Dam.” I wonder how many boats, rafts and cars per mile of river that constitutes.

DSCF8476

All groups in their statements and submitted testimony made reference to their concerns for the protection of aquatic habitats here, as well as adherence to the Clean Water Act in this Dead Reach stretch of the Connecticut that includes the extremely critical spawning habitat of the shortnose sturgeon—which consists solely of the small, semi-circular pool that forms below Rock Dam–along with its tiny little 4 foot drop. Shortnose congregate at Rock Dam for spawning from early April through the end of May. Let’s run giant rafts over them and invite crowds of kayakers to overwhelm the river and rocks here to demonstrate respect and concern for a river struggling for life here these last 50 years.

This is self-interested behavior only a little removed from that of the power companies, and, like the power companies, there is cash waiting in the wings for using the river in this most self-considered way. So, well done, whitewater boating interests! We at least now have a tiny picture of what your practice, rather than theory, might constitute. And, hey, did it ever cross your minds that some people actually consider the Rock Dam a sacred place..?