Daily Hampshire Gazette

Archived Posts from this Category

Greenwashing, or How Many Times Can You Sell a Dead River?

Posted by on 09 Mar 2022 | Tagged as: America's best landscaped sewer, Connecticut River, Connecticut River ecosystem, Connecticut River migratory fisheries restoration, Conte National Fish & Wildlife Refuge, Daily Hampshire Gazette, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, FERC, FirstLight, FirstLight Power, fish kill, Greenfield Recorder, Julie Crocker, MA Division of Fish and Wildlife, Mark Tisa, Martin Suuberg, Martin Suuberg: Commissioner MA Department of Environmental Protection, Massachusetts DEP, Nation's best landscaped sewer, net-loss power, Northfield Mountain, Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station, P-2485, right-to-know, Rock Dam, Silvio O. Conte Connecticut River National Fish and Wildlife Refuge, The Recorder, The Springfield Republican, UMass, US Fish & Wildlife Service, Wendi Weber, Will Ryan

It’s like an old joke: HOW MANY TIMES CAN YOU SELL A DEAD RIVER? In the case of the Connecticut River and the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Project the answer is: Twice a Day for Fifty Years!

And the new answer to that old joke–if our federal and state leaders fail to step up again for this ecosystem: TWICE A DAY FOR 100 YEARS AND COUNTING!

Participants in a 2016 program at the fragile Rock Dam spawning habitat of the shortnose sturgeon that I did with Boyd Kynard.

Please, if you missed it in the Daily Hampshire Gazette or The Recorder, read BELOW the terrific op ed by Will Ryan, a UMass graduate and Northfield Mountain investigator, along with his colleagues. Will attended one of my river programs at the fragile Rock Dam spawning habitat of the federally endangered shortnose sturgeon. It sunk in–what a failed and unprotected ecosystem exists in Massachusetts, and that there really has never been a watchdog here to force the corporations or the agencies to comply with established law. It’s seen as merely a cash cow, run amok.

https://www.masslive.com/opinion/2022/03/firstlight-is-greenwashing-effects-on-health-of-connecticut-river-viewpoint.html

Joyriders descend on the fragile Rock Dam habitat, an ancient, starved and embattled place that many of us consider sacrosanct for its biological and cultural significance.

In a time when the very fabric of the Earth is rapidly fraying, it would be criminal of public officials to turn their back on the chance to revive the key living artery of our ecosystem. The US Fish & Wildlife Service, MA Dept. of Environmental Protection, MA Fisheries & Wildlife and NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries must step up now. The ugly scale of this antiquated scheme is to relicense the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station to literally continue sucking away the life of the river for the next half century–re-marketing its deadened flow as twice-produced, net-loss megawatts to places as far away as New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Maryland.

Right now leaders of those agencies are getting a second chance to do what’s morally and ethically required to assure there’s a Connecticut River legacy to pass on to future generations. Will they stand up, or will they bow to a short-sighted, long-term corporate cash scheme that trades an ecosystem for a net-loss, mega-scale power export configuration?

Predecessors of those four agencies failed disastrously 50 years ago by agreeing to allow that uninvestigated, brutal and lethally-disruptive machine to be installed on the Connecticut River. Today, that deadly contraption is being cleverly rebranded as clean, renewable and Earth-friendly–pedaled as the single best idea to accomplish energy storage for future generations here. In fact, its brutality has been unparalleled in this river’s natural history.

River-killing pumped storage is a 20th century crime, put forward in place of any number of energy storage and delivery configurations that should already be in place by 2022. It’s as if the only way to keep the lights on is to kill the very thing that has literally fed and sustained life in this Valley for millennia.

If you are lucky, you literally get one second-chance a century to conserve, protect and enforce the environmental protections left endlessly unattended on New England’s Great River. Like so many people in the Connecticut River Valley, I would never be the person who would turn their back on restoring this region’s critical ecosystem artery after a half century. That wholesale slaughter has come entirely at the hands of the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Project.

The Connecticut is a river without a bona fide protector, one with not even an NGO who can say they employ a single staff lawyer after 70 years of watershed council/conservancy window dressing. That’s what has left this ecosystem in tatters for generations. The corporations and the environmental agencies have never had a single thing to fear as the half century disaster rolled along….

Right now, the Connecticut River’s survival as this ecosystem’s most vital organ rests in their hands. It’s way past time our public trust agency leaders actually walked the talk. It’s time for them to stand up for the River’s life, and for those who come later. Here are their names. Use them, publicly. No river should die in the dark. They are being mentioned in Letters to the Editor, and No License to Kill filings with FERC:
Wendi Weber, Director Region 5 US Fish & Wildlife Service, wendi_weber@fws.gov; Martin Suuberg, Commissioner of MA Dept. of Environmental Protection; Mark Tisa, Director of the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, mark.tisa@state.ma.us; Julie Crocker, NOAA/National Marine Fisheries ecosystems and energy branch chief, julie.crocker@noaa.gov,

And, finally, and once more–time is short in this relicensing process. FirstLight is again making claims they will have the fed/state agencies bought and sold in their secret, backroom license negotiations by March 15th. However unlikely, it is still time to keep up the pressure NOW! If you haven’t, or know someone who can, get them to take public action with FERC and the leaders noted above.

Again, here’s the NO License to Kill filing process for FERC–please share it, get someone to write, write a new letter yourself, NOW!

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.

And thanks to all, or almost all–because this is hardly a complete list of those who have written FERC or op eds, or letters, or shown up on bridges and made signs. We’re still in the game! Think, if you can, of doing something NOW, a letter, asking a friend. Something that pushes this River’s life out of the backroom shadows and into the light. There is only NOW! RIGHT NOW!

Joseph W Stubblefield, Sanjay Arwade, Jonathan S Shefftz, Jamie Rowen, Michael Giles, William H. Pete, Nicholas Reich, James Lowenthal, Katharine Sims, William Daniels, Paige Wilder, Karl Meyer, Shayla G Freeland, Mary J Metzger, Robert Arbib, C Grecsek, Malcolm G Everett, Mike Cournyn, Robert Catlin, Don Ogden, William N. Ryan, Elizabeth Whitcomb, Judith Nietsche, Celt Grant, Susan Olmsted, David B. Keith, Glen Ayers, Virginia Hastings, Annie Chappell, James Seretta, Ron Barto, Robert Dickerman, Pamela Scott, Tanya Dragan, Lin Respess, Rebecca Tippens, Sigurd Nilsen, Peggy Matthews-Nilsen, Amy Rose, Steven Wilkinson, Stephen Kerr, Nancy Obertz, Dorothy McIver, Robert Sweener, Seth Wilpan, Norma Roche, Fergus Marshall, Louise P. Doud, Vicki Citron, John Nelson Jr., Jon Burgess, Robert F Porzio, Garrett D Connelly, Dave Dersham, Betsy Corner, Graham Hayward, Sid Siff, Paul Richmond, Betsy Browning, Rebecca Robbins, James Smethurst, Laura Doughty, Mary Hall, Laura Kaye, Frank Ribeiro, Andrew Hutchison, Mark Russo, Judith Phillips, Priscilla Lynch, Molly Freeland, John Hoffman, Roberta Murphy, Dodi Melnicoff, Ethel S. White.

As Connecticut River secrecy-shrouded talks continue, citizens demand an end to Northfield’s half century of devastation

Posted by on 22 Dec 2021 | Tagged as: American shad, blueback herring, Connecticut River ecosystem, Daily Hampshire Gazette, Deerfield MA, E-Comments, Extinction, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, FERC, FERC license, FirstLight, Greenfield Recorder, Landmark Supreme Court Decision 1872, MA Division of Fish and Wildlife, Massachusetts DEP, National Marine Fisheries Service, Northfield Mountain, Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station, P-2485, pumped storage, shad, Silvio O. Conte Connecticut River National Fish and Wildlife Refuge, The Daily Hampshire Gazette, The Greenfield Recorder, The Recorder, US Fish & Wildlife Service, USFWS

As secrecy-shrouded Connecticut River licensing talks continue, citizens are standing up to demand an end Northfield’s half century of ecosystem devastation

IN THE PAST THREE DAYS a steady drumbeat of on-the-record calls to end Northfield Mountain’s half century of aquatic carnage, energy waste and ecosystem disruption have been filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. This speaks volumes about democracy vs. secrecy–and the massive void in leadership, information and environmental enforcement that has been the status quo on this great river for the last 50 years. When there is no watchdog; there is no enforcement.

IN THE FOLLOWING ENTRIES you will find the latest 10 filings by citizens from Foxboro to Amherst, and Northampton, Leeds and Northfield, as well as from Greenfield and Deerfield to Colrain, into the FERC record. All are demanding that no new license be issued allowing the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station to continue savaging our ecosystem.

AFTER reading through that last entry you will find directions for entering on-the-record testimony with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. It is important that this is done now, as state and federal fish and environmental agencies are currently in FINAL “settlement” negotiations with foreign-registered FirstLight through the end of this month. THEY NEED TO KNOW exactly where you–their constituents, stand on any selling out of our Great River and its aquatic legacy.

* * The following piece, “Last light for New England’s Great River?” appeared in the Daily Hampshire Gazette on 12/22/2021, after originally running in The Greenfield Recorder on Tuesday, 12/21/2021. https://www.gazettenet.com/my-turn-meyer-LastLightCtRiver-44127152

BELOW please find the latest citizen filings with FERC:

UPDATE! This is the ELEVENTH filing, submitted from Stoughton MA early this morning:

Document Accession #: 20211223-5001 Filed Date: 12/23/2021
Steven Wilkinson, Stoughton, MA.

It’s time for F.E.R.C. to fulfill government by, of and for the people, and not the corporations, by stopping the mis-use of our public resources. Restore the Connecticut River’s integrity by ending Northfield’s activities. You owe it to future generations, whose environment and food supply are being adversely impacted by your past decisions. Make it right. Stop this backward company from hurting New England.

Document Accession #: 20211223-5000 Filed Date: 12/23/2021
Amy Rose, Amherst, MA.

Comments on Northfield Hydroelectric License/Re-license Proceedings P-2485
I stand firmly in favor of terminating the license of the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station. It is an experiment that has failed miserably, and it is time to close it down. In addition to killing 100s of millions of aquatic animals in the CT River every year, this illogical project squanders a massive amount of energy pumping water to the top of a mountain. How
absurd! Protect our beautiful CT River and stop this ridiculous project ASAP.Redirect this energy towards investing in solar arrays on developed areas: rooftops, roads and parking lots.

Document Accession #: 20211222-5071 Filed Date: 12/22/2021
Peggy Matthews-Nilsen, Amherst, MA.

Please protect the Connecticut River from the environmental damage that FirstLight’s project will create for decades to come. Please DO NOT relicense FirstLight! Thank you.

Document Accession #: 20211222-5067 Filed Date: 12/22/2021
Sigurd Nilsen, Amherst, MA.

Please do not renew FirstLight’s license due to the ecological devastation to the Connecticut River.

Document Accession #: 20211222-5057 Filed Date: 12/22/2021
Rebecca Tippens, colrain, MA.

Hydroelectric License/Re-license Proceedings
I am quite upset that the process for deciding whether to renew the license for First Light to renew permission for pumped storage has been less than fully transparent. The Connecticut RIVER is a common resource and it is our obligation to insure its health as well as the beings who live in it. We know we are facing an extinction crisis and the pumped storage method, despite assurances to the contrary, kills millions of fish. First Light’s parent owner has been using all the tricks in the book to hide from both regulators and the public, their financial sleuthing that includes relocating their business to tax havens while, green washing their actions to give donations to local non-profits that represent but fractions of their profits but which they use to bolster their argument that they are indeed a green company.

In fact the process of sucking out water to later drop it to create energy (& dead fish), is massively energy intensive. That they want to continue this killing project for the next twenty plus years is beyond abhorrent. It is a moral and ecological travesty that no one should be supporting.

Document Accession #: 20211222-5050 Filed Date: 12/22/2021
Lin Respess, Northampton, MA.

I am writing to encourage you to reject the relicensing of FirstLight’s Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage station on the Connecticut River. For years, it has been destroying migratory fishes on the river in direct violation of the U.S, Fish & Wildlife Service’s published goals for the river, and to restore passage for migratory American shad, blueback herring, and other species, and requiring providing the public with high quality sport fishing opportunities in a highly urbanized area, as well as to provide for the long-term needs of the population for seafood. Please protect this New England ecosystem for future generations by denying relicensing for FirstLight’s Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station.

With thanks,
Lin & Tucker Respess, Northampton, Massachusetts

Document Accession #: 20211222-5040 Filed Date: 12/22/2021
Tanya Dragan, LEEDS, MA.

Hello,
I am gravely concerned about FirstLight and the damage caused by the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station on the Connecticut River.

Please do not allow this to continue. Nor continue with the negative impacts they’ve gotten away with for decades. We need to protect future generations.

Do not let their PR/lobbying machine work to ruin the environment.

Regards,
Tanya Dragan
Leeds, MA

Document Accession #: 20211222-5039 Filed Date: 12/22/2021
Pamela Scott, Deerfield, MA.

To whom it concerns.. I read with dismay the plans for this hydro electric project to continue. As a concerned citizen, I urge you to reconsider. These activities will have lasting effects that we can’t even comprehend and will affect us far into the future. Please discontinue this project and stop the senseless slaughter of precious wildlife. Thank you very much for your attention to this email.

Document Accession #: 20211221-5154 Filed Date: 12/21/2021
Ron Bartos, FOXBORO, MA.

The operation of the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station facility is highly detrimental to all life in and around the Connecticut River. It kills millions of the river’s aquatic creatures whenever it operates, and causes an unnatural rise and fall, and reverse current, in the river. The license for the project must not be renewed. There are other more economical and ecological ways to generate electricity.

Document Accession #: 20211221-5127 Filed Date: 12/21/2021
James Seretta, Greenfield, MA.

It makes NO SENSE to allow any company to control a resource that in doing so allows them to make money while killing off the ecosystem of the resource. It would be different if there was no harm right?

What’s most bothersome is how it looks like you’re in bed with these guys. What’s in it for you?? Have you bothered to watch these guys sneak around with their shell companies covering their tracks? Did you ever try to figure out why?? Why sell out to a foreign company that has no interest but to make a profit while pilfering the resource of the home community??

It’s time for you guys to do your job and stand up for this incredible resource. Do you hear an outcry that says these corporate folks are doing great things, we love them, sign them up for another 50 years? Of course not because no one wants it. THE HARM OUTWEIGHS THE GOOD!!! DO YOUR JOB!

Document Accession #: 20211220-5002 Filed Date: 12/20/2021
Glen Ayers, Greenfield, MA.

The Northfield Mountain pump-storage facility should be completely decommissioned and the river restored to allow natural flows. No connectionbetween the Northfield Mountain facility and the CT River should be allowed. This river-killing contraption must be eliminated from the river ecosystem. This continuous destruction has been happening for 50-years and it cannot be allowed to kill the river’s aquatic life for another 50.

The time has come to pull the plug on Northfield Mountain, an outdated, obsolete technology that wastes energy, kills fish and other aquatic organisms, and is only operated to enhance the profit of a corporate investment entity that simply does not care about ecology or the river. The people demand that the Government stop this abuse at once. After 50-years of raping the river on a daily basis, it is time to say enough is enough! DO NOT RELICENSE NORTHFIELD MOUNTAIN PUMP STORAGE!!

Fifty years ago this now-obsolete contraption was foisted upon the river aspart of the Vermont Yankee Atomic Nuke Facility in Vernon, VT. That polluting monstrosity has finally been shut down, but is still contaminating the river ecosystem. Northfield Mountain is no longer connected to the Nuke and it should have been shut down at the same time, but the license has expired and it finally must be shuttered so that the river can begin to recover from 50-years of abuse. Ecological science has developed greatly in the past 50-years, and technological advances have replaced this sort of monstrosity with systems that are more efficient, far less harmful, and have barely a fraction of the footprint that the river destroying Northfield Mountain has on the local ecology. This antique belongs in a museum, as an exhibit on bad ideas that were finally eliminated, like DDT, Thalidomide, and Teflon. There is nothing good about Northfield Mountain, it is a curse on the region, and the damage it has done to the river will take decades to heal. River recovery is not possible until this beast is shut down. The river demands that it be freed from the death grip that has been strangling the life out of the CT River for half a century. The abuse must be stopped. NOW!

I implore you to do your job, and find the spine necessary to shut downNorthfield Mountain. To do otherwise would be inhuman and a gross violation of the public trust doctrine. I ask that you reject the application from First Light Power, deny the relicensing, and require that the owner of Northfield Mountain restore the river ecosystem and functioning that has been ruined by their mistreatment of a living system for these past 50-years. The public has spoken loud and clear, we do not consent to treating our river as a pumping machine for the next half century. We Do Not Consent! Shut Down Northfield Mountain! Shut it down.

HELP RESCUE OUR ECOSYSTEM: Here’s how…

Citizens can still get on the public record before any grim deal is signed. 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 use Northfield’s FERC project number, P-2485, to enter your comments.

Rock Dam: the Connecticut River’s shortnose sturgeon “bakery”

Posted by on 03 Jun 2021 | Tagged as: Connecticut River, Connecticut River ecosystem, Connecticut River shortnose sturgeon, Daily Hampshire Gazette, Rock Dam, The Recorder, vtdigger.org

The first link below is from an interview I did with Don Ogden(d.o.) and Glen Ayers on the EnviroShow, which aired this week.

Further down are links to The Recorder, vtdigger, and the Daily Hampshire Gazette, where a satirical piece on the abandonment of the most critical biological habitat in this river ecosystem, which also ran this past week.

This is a model that has failed, dismally.

https://archive.org/details/the-rock-dam-enviro-show-6-1-21


The Rock Dam’s drained and baking cobbles: killing field for the eggs and Early Life Stages (ELS) of the federally endangered Connecticut River shortnose sturgeon. Photo Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer

Sometimes you have to laugh to keep from crying… See links below:

https://archive.org/details/the-rock-dam-enviro-show-6-1-21https://www.recorder.com/my-turn-meyer-LocalDelicacy-40676082

https://vtdigger.org/2021/06/02/karl-meyer-rare-downstream-dining-baby-baked-endangered-sturgeon/

https://www.gazettenet.com/my-turn-meyer-LocalDelicacy-40767302

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.

Fish Futures on a Broken River

Posted by on 04 Nov 2017 | Tagged as: 5-year FERC licensing process, American shad, Connecticut River ecosystem, Connecticut River shortnose sturgeon, Connecticut River Watershed Council, Daily Hampshire Gazette, Dr. Boyd Kynard, Endangere Species Act, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, federally-endangered shortnose sturgeon, fish passage, Holyoke Fish Lift, National Marine Fisheries Service, National Marine Fisheries Service, Northfield Mountain, Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station, PSP Investments, Rock Dam Pool, Rutland Herald, shad, Shortnose Stout, shortnose sturgeon, US Fish & Wildlife Service, US Geological Survey's Conte Fish Lab, USFWS, Vermont, Vermont Digger

Copyright © 2017 by Karl Meyer, All RIGHTS RESERVED

FISH FUTURES ON A BROKEN RIVER

(NOTE: the following appeared in The Rutland Herald, wwww.rutlandherald.com, and on the pages of Vermont Digger, www.vtdigger.org in October)

It’s been decades since migratory fish on New England’s Great River got a break–bleak since deregulation came to federally-licensed electricity plants on the Connecticut beginning in 1998.

Deregulation turned a regional market into a venture capital free-for-all, opening the door to speculators and foreign interests controlling public resources. In less than 20 years the Vernon hydro station changed hands three times. The Vermont Yankee nuclear plant next door is currently courting a third owner. Downstream the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station and Turners Falls hydro complex flipped four times between investors. Further south, the Holyoke hydro station sold only once in 2002.

None of this proved healthy for an ecosystem.

The post-deregulation decade saw a steep slide in American shad passing Holyoke Dam. After two decades of averages well above 300,000 fish, yearly numbers plunged to near half that—a far cry from the 720,000 passed in 1992. Things were even more desperate at Turners Falls Dam. There, impacted by the massive water appetite and violent, peaking flows sent downstream by the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station, passage dropped below 1% some years. For a decade, just 3 or 4 migrating shad in 100 were tallied emerging alive upstream. Today’s numbers languish near 1980s levels.

The federal license signed by Holyoke Gas & Electric in 2002 required they complete lift improvements at Holyoke by 2008 to pass endangered shortnose sturgeon upriver. Sturgeon were literally unable to spawn–blocked at that dam from reaching their only documented natural spawning site, a fail-safe refuge known as the Rock Dam Pool at Turners Falls. Year-in, year-out, that mandate went unenforced. It was finally met last year.

(Note: below, the flow-starved CT in Turners Falls looking downstream toward Rock Dam.CLICK, THEN CLICK AGAIN TO ENLARGE)

In 2004 federal fish biologist Dr. Boyd Kynard handed results of 15 years of Connecticut River shortnose sturgeon research to the National Marine Fisheries Service. He and colleagues had documented that that Rock Dam spawning site for the only federally-endangered migratory fish on the river was being decimated by industrial practices. Yearly gatherings failed for the few dozen spawning-ready sturgeon surviving upstream of Holyoke—as they attempted to continue a tenuous 200 million year-old genetic line. But NMFS didn’t come to their aid; no watchdog intervened.

Ultimately, decades of research by Kynard and company was compiled into Life History and Behaviour of Connecticut River Shortnose and other Sturgeons, published by the World Sturgeon Conservation Society. After experts at the Europe-based WSCS published the book in early 2012, the US Geological Service (where Kynard retired as a federal fish scientist) began making belated objections, halting all publication for a time. Their objections caused a de facto embargo of its sale in the U.S through that spring.

USGS cited editorial and style concerns in “recalling” three chapters on sturgeon biology and spawning—including the data and text showing industrial flows caused spawning failure at Turners Falls. Nearly a dozen state, federal, and university contributors to the book cried foul, citing censorship and the public’s right to government information. In June, concurrent with press inquiries and a letter from Congressman John Olver questioning the withholding of public science, USGS suddenly withdrew all its objections—days before an article highlighting the issues appeared in The Daily Hampshire Gazette. Federal agencies now had the facts. Yet despite the Endangered Species Act, none took action.

In spring of 2014 a popular beer, Shortnose Stout, debuted in the region. Its label displayed Kynard’s website and highlighted spawning conditions at Turners Falls. The Connecticut River Watershed Council soon stepped up to collect donated profits from its sale, yet those sturgeon were left hanging once more. Today conditions at Rock Dam remain as ruinous as when the first 2004 findings were released.

In 2015 the controversial chapters from Kynard’s book got entered into the public record in the current Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s relicensing process for Northfield Mountain and Turners Falls. With that science on the record, things changed at federal proceedings. Sturgeon spawning became a key factor in flow discussions for future FERC licenses there mandating river conditions. This June, new restoration targets to meet failed 50 year-old federal Anadramous Fish Conservation Act requirements were released by the US Fish & Wildlife Service. With passage failed for half a century at Turners Falls, new shad targets mandate 397,000 fish passing annually. New owner, Canada Public Pension Investments, will be on the hook to build lifts and safeguard sturgeon spawning.

In August a fisherman near Vernon landed an endangered shortnose sturgeon–a fish thought not to exist above Turners Falls. He took a photo and released the fish, sending the picture to officials who confirmed it; then forwarded it to the National Marine Fisheries Service. There is reason to believe that landing may not be an isolated occurrence. NMFS is taking the confirmed capture seriously. Is a remnant shortnose population clinging to life in Vermont and New Hampshire waters? Did someone release them there? Either way, federal law requires owners at Vernon Dam, VT Yankee and Northfield Mountain to protect the migratory fish of the United States as a public trust. After decades of speculation, it’s high time our fish had their day.

NOTE: author Karl Meyer was the idea-creator and author of the beer brand Shortnose Stout. He neither requested or received any compensation or recognition for his work, which was solely aimed at getting important information to the public.

Last chance for a Great River

Posted by on 10 Jul 2017 | Tagged as: 5-year FERC licensing process, American shad, Bellows Falls, Connecticut River, Connecticut River shortnose sturgeon, Daily Hampshire Gazette, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, FERC, FirstLight, MA Division of Fish and Wildlife, National Marine Fisheries Service, Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station, PSP Investments, Rock Dam, The Greenfield Recorder, Turners Falls dam, Turners Falls power canal, US Fish & Wildlife Service, USFWS, Vermont Digger, Vernon Dam Fishway


The DEAD REACH of the Connecticut River just bellow Turners Falls Dam, 7/9/2017. (Click; then click again to enlarge)

NOTE: The following piece appeared in the Vermont Digger (www.vtdigger.org), The Daily Hampshire Gazette (www.gazettenet.com), and the Greenfield Recorder (www.recorder.com), in June.

Copyright © 2017 by Karl Meyer, All Rights Reserved

Last chance for a great river

It’s sink-or-swim time on the Connecticut River at Turners Falls for the National Marine Fisheries Service, the US Fish & Wildlife Service and the MA Division of Fish & Wildlife. Fifty years ago they signed the 1967 Cooperative Fishery Restoration Agreement for the Connecticut. It’s “Statement of Intent” was to pass “one million fish at Holyoke, 850,000 at Turners Falls, and 750,000 at Vernon,” restoring American shad to 86 miles of their spawning habitat upstream to Bellows Falls, VT. Back then a simple elevator at Holyoke Dam, 36 miles downstream, had already proven effective at passing shad upriver since 1955. Instead, the agencies opted for complexity.

Within a decade they decided to have three fish ladders built at Turners Falls, forcing all fish out of the river and into a 2.1 mile, turbine-lined power canal. That complex solution failed spectacularly. Deprived of a river route upstream, the runs withered while power company profits accrued. Instead of the 10,000 cubic feet per second flows needed for river habitats, they only required the power company to dribble 400 cfs over that dam. That also wrecked recovery prospects for federally endangered shortnose sturgeon at the Rock Dam, their ancient, natural spawning site just downstream.

Today these agencies are again on the hook to safeguard the river, and fish passage. They’re now taking part in potential backroom settlement negotiations at the invitation of PSP Investments, a Canadian venture capital outfit. PSP is the latest owner of the Turners Falls dam and canal. They also bought the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station, now powered on imported, fossil-fueled megawatts that suck the Connecticut into reverse at Northfield, yank it up a mountain, and send it back down as peak-priced, secondhand electricity.

PSP, operating here as FirstLight Power, is bidding for a new Federal Energy Regulatory license for their new pension investments, where profits—and the river itself at times, will all flow north. PSP is bidding to withdraw 30% more water at Northfield for a third of the year, and get paid handsomely by ratepayers for the practice—whether they regenerate electricity with it or not. Positions taken by federal and state reps in these mandated non-disclosure, negotiations, will define this four-state ecosystem for decades to come.

On May 19th, an influx of ocean life not seen in 170 years occurred at the 1848 Holyoke Dam. In a three-day span, two elevators at its base lifted nearly two hundred thousand silver-green American shad toward spawning habitat in Vermont, New Hampshire and northern Massachusetts. Previous records were shattered. As the East Coast’s most successful passage, Holyoke has lifted as many as 720,000 shad in a season. Turners Falls has never passed more than 60,000 fish. For a full decade success there dropped to around 1-fish-in-100.

Two days after that burst of sea life through Holyoke, half those fish would’ve reached the brutal Turners Falls reach. There, confused industrial flows charge the river at all angles, and just a thin curtain of water is required to spill from the dam. Ultimately, every migrant was forced into the canal. Just a few would emerge upstream. For the rest, migration had ended abruptly—far short of rich upstream spawning grounds.

The run past Holyoke is this region’s last great migration–a pulse of planetary life, magical to witness. Each sleek, agitated shad is hell-bent on spawning as far upstream as time, energy, and luck allows. The few that found a way beyond Turners would have had little trouble following the river to the Vernon Dam. There, most could easily swim directly up a short ladder–passing the last hurdle toward that historic Great Eddy between Bellows Falls and Walpole, NH, 172 miles from the sea. Young spawned there would fatten on river-rich nutrients. Surviving adults could turn back toward the sea.

But Turners Falls has slammed the door on hundreds of thousands of others. Industrial currents, dead-end flows, and slack water offer no real path forward. The canal is their dead end. Ken Sprankle, the USFWS’s Connecticut River Coordinator, posts Holyoke fish passage numbers three times a week. Holyoke personnel happily provide them. Sadly, the MA Division of Fish & Wildlife long ago abandoned a daily presence at Turner Falls, leaving the power company in charge to pass along woefully outdated fish count numbers. By the time they reach the public its weeks past when any flow adjustments might have helped exhausted fish attempting to pass there.

Turner Falls is a black hole. There’s really no river there at all. New England’s Great River has long been owed its water–and the habitat and fish passage protections mandated by federal acts and a landmark 1872 Supreme Court ruling centered on the Holyoke Dam. Let’s hope fisheries representatives in backroom PSP talks don’t sell an ecosystem short again. Keep it simple. Fish need water and a river, and a direct route upstream–like at Holyoke and Vernon. This is the public’s river, not a cash cow. If the price gets too high, walk away. Future generations will know.

Karl Meyer of Greenfield is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists. He remains a participating stakeholder in FERC relicensing proceedings for these sites. He is not attending these side-talks on settlements due to PSP’s mandatory non-disclosure requirements.

Rolling over on a River: the real cost of pumped storage energy

Posted by on 26 Oct 2016 | Tagged as: American shad, climate change, Connecticut River, Connecticut River ecosystem, Connecticut River Watershed Council, Daily Hampshire Gazette, ecosystem, Entrainment, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, federally-endangered Connecticut River shortnose sturgeion, federally-endangered shortnose sturgeon, FERC, fossil fuels, Greenfield Recorder, ISO New England, MA Division of Fish and Wildlife, National Marine Fisheries Service, NMFS, NOAA, Northfield Mountain, Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Project, Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Reservoir, nuclear power, Public Comment period, public trust, pumped storage, Relicensing, shad, shortnose sturgeon, Society of Environmental Journalists, The Recorder, Turners Falls power canal, US Fish & Wildlife Service, USFWS, Vermont, Vermont Digger, Vermont Yankee

Copyright © 2016 by Karl Meyer

(Note: this essay appeared in September and October in these MA and VT media and newspaper outlets: Vermont Digger, www.vtdigger.org ; The Daily Hampshire Gazette; and The Recorder.)

besttfemptybed

The de-watered CT below Turners Falls Dam that few people see. (Click, then click again to enlarge.)

Rolling over on a river

Since time began rivers have been the Earth’s arteries—the foundation of its ecosystems. Here in New England it’s “last chance” time for our Great River. On April 30, 2018 the fate of the long-foundered Connecticut River migratory fisheries restoration—and the survival of a four-state river ecosystem, will be decided for what’s essentially forever. New Federal Energy Regulatory Commission hydro licenses are expected to be signed then by government agencies and the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board–latest purchaser of the Turners Falls and Northfield Mountain projects. That company’s stated investor mandate is “to maximize investment returns without undue risk of loss.”

Over two generations ago public-trust mistakes were made favoring power companies, fish hatcheries, and high-end salmon-fishing interests that rendered eight miles of the Connecticut in Massachusetts a massively-suctioned, partially-dewatered flush sink. Sanctioned by fisheries agencies and non-profits, those decisions, severed an ecosystem in two. They forced all migrating fish into a deadly power canal, leaving three emptied miles of riverbed below Turners Falls Dam, while four turbines at the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station five miles upstream consumed massive amounts of nuclear energy to suck a river backward and uphill to a mountaintop reservoir.

Those turbines were built to run on the promised endless supply of overproduced juice generated nightly at the local, now-closed, Vermont Yankee nuke, 15 miles away. Today, running on giant slugs of imported fossil fuel, they continue to spin, sucking the river up in endless gulps into a 4 billion gallon pool a mile up Northfield Mountain. That daily suctioning creates riverbank eroding “tides” higher than those at Hyannisport, MA—with some rivaling the ten-foot fluctuations of Fundy Bay.

Back then, predecessors of today’s National Marine Fisheries Service, the US Fish & Wildlife Service, Massachusetts’ Fish & Wildlife and the Connecticut River Watershed Council signed off on an agreement with the Federal Power Commission and Western Massachusetts Electric that strangled the river in northern Massachusetts. It resulted in the failure of migratory fish passage and a promised renewal of the river’s ancient seafood resources upstream to Vermont, New Hampshire, and northern Mass. Few American shad emerged alive after diversion into that canal. It also failed the shortnose sturgeon—this river’s only federally endangered migratory fish, leaving it without flow or monitoring at its only documented natural spawning site.

Upstream at Northfield the destruction was yet more complete. The suck and gush appetite of that nuclear-charged contraption virtually disassembled the river. It gulped flow at a rate of 15,000 cubic feet per second, often for hours at a time—drawing on the river pool above Turners Falls Dam where, 70% of the time, the Connecticut’s natural routed flow is less than 15,000 cfs. Boaters a mile downstream could find themselves drifting upriver via Northfield’s unearthly pull. All fish and organisms drawn up through the sphere of that suction were deemed “functionally extirpated”–dead to the ecosystem by virtue of being sieved twice through the turbines. It was evolution in reverse, a river ripped away from its eternal run to the sea.

Today, climate-blind FERC labels Northfield as a source of “renewable clean” energy—but there’s nothing clean, renewable or sustainable about its imported, twice-produced, peak-priced electricity crippling this river. ISO New England, FERC’s Northfield-cheering, ever-energy-hungry cousin, also ignores climate and its environmental dismemberment. “Pumped storage” is not hydropower—not even by the industry’s own technical terminology. Northfield-produced power in fact represents the heavy planetary burden of fossil fuel used to push a mountain of water uphill, merely as a weight to produce high-cost, second hand electricity. It cares nothing of rivers, fish or ecosystems.

If bureaucrats again fail the public trust and don’t demand critical habitat protections, flows, and the day-to-day monitoring needed to fulfill U.S. environmental statutes, Canadian pension speculators will be left as the de facto controlling interests on our river. The new owners have asked FERC to merge two separate licenses for Northfield and Turners Falls into a single new license dubbed the “Northfield Project.” What’s represented as mere bureaucratic streamlining would actually enshrine, by precedent–next time and forever, river-killing pumped storage.

Any responsible environmental agency should deny this single-license merger, and seek to have Northfield kept in use as emergency infrastructure only—with the ultimate remedy it’s dismantling in tandem with a move to a decentralized, far less vulnerable system than today’s expanding mega-grid. Massachusetts legislators are currently signing onto backroom energy deals for a glut of future hydropower from Quebec. Some 1,200 megawatts of those penciled-in imports could easily replace the few hours of daily juice Northfield puts out–while keeping it available for rare emergencies. Though the new Canadian power imports largely ignore conservation and innovation, they could be employed to end the river carnage here and begin restoring a future for a critical New England ecosystem.

(Note: timely public comment on licensing issues is carefully considered by FERC. Go to: http://ferc.gov/docs-filing/ecomment.asp and use “E-Comment.” Check “Hydro” and address to Secretary Kimberly D. Bose, using the required identifiers “P-2485” and “P-1889” for Northfield and Turners Falls.)

Karl Meyer lives in Greenfield MA. He is participating in the FERC relicensing process and is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists.

FISHY MISSING INFO

Posted by on 22 Jun 2016 | Tagged as: blueback herring, Connecticut River, Connecticut River ecosystem, Connecticut River migratory fisheries restoration, Daily Hampshire Gazette, FirstLight, fish counts, Fish passage results, GDF-Suez FirstLight, Greenfield Recorder, MA Division of Fish and Wildlife, migratory delay, New Hampshire, Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Reservoir, Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station, public trust, right-to-know, salmon, salmon hatchery, sea lamprey, shad, The Recorder, Turners Falls, Turners Falls dam, US Fish & Wildlife Service, USFWS, Vermont, Vernon Dam Fishway

The following OpEd appeared in the Daily Hampshire Gazette (Northampton,MA) and The Recorder (Greenfield, MA) in early June.

Fishy Missing Info Copyright © 2016 by Karl Meyer

DSCF8552
(low flows and byzantine fish ladder at Turners Falls 6/19/16:CLICK TO ENLARGE)

I’d like to change the name of a Commonwealth agency. What would you think about the Massachusetts Division of “Manufactured” Fisheries and Wildlife? I think it would offer a much better picture of the Agency’s focus, particularly here in the Connecticut Valley. Here you can get daily on-line information on where to find truckloads of thousands-upon-thousands of factory-produced rainbow, brown and brook trout before they are dumped into local rivers for hatchery-fish angling pleasure. But I dare you to find anything more than a several-weeks-old tally of the numbers of wild migratory fish streaming north here on the Connecticut anywhere beyond the fish windows at Holyoke Dam. So this would be a “truth-in-labeling” adjustment.

New England’s Great River runs for 69 miles through the Commonwealth. The MA Division of Fisheries & Wildlife is responsible for all migratory fish in that broad reach from the time they enter at Agawam, until they either remain here for spawning, or pass into Vermont and New Hampshire. Those runs are the agency’s “public trust”—to be protected for its citizens, anglers, students and future generations. But the less information the public gets on their whereabouts, the less an agency might be availed upon to actually protect them.

As we enter the final weeks of migration season the only information provided—not just days old, but nearly a month stale, refers solely to fish on the first 16 miles of river from the Connecticut border to the fish lift at Holyoke Dam. That leaves a full 52 miles of river with just a single—now uselessly outdated May 4th report about the truly wild shad, lamprey and herring now moving along New England’s flagship waterway. Salmon are not mentioned here because just three years after the US Fish & Wildlife Service stopped factory production of this hybrid, just a single salmon has been tallied. Hatchery fish production masks the reality of failing wild populations and deteriorating habitats. To date there’s been but one report on fish passage from Turners Falls.

As an interested citizen I’m a bit outraged that it’s June 1st, and I don’t have a clue about what’s going on with the wild, migrating fish coming upriver in what you have to consider as one of New England’s last remaining great migrations. Shad, blueback herring, and sea lamprey have been moving upstream for over two months now, and the only public information offered is of the absurd 54 shad counted at Turners Falls, almost a full month back. Really? This is any agency with an accountability problem.

MA DF&W has scant little to offer the public as to what they’ve been doing on the ground to protect our wild fish runs—and that includes struggling populations of state-listed, endangered shortnose sturgeon, also under their purview. But to not even take responsibility for having on-the-ground personnel monitoring runs at the river’s long-known choke point, Turners Falls, is a flagrant abdication of duty. Here in central and northern Massachusetts we not only don’t see fish because of decimated Connecticut River habitats, we aren’t even offered updated tallies on the ugly mess. But perhaps that’s by design. Connecticut’s state fisheries agency regularly provides more information on Commonwealth fish runs than does the MA DF&W.

When I recently contacted the Commonwealth’s Anadromous Fish Project Leader to inquire about fish passage information at Turners Falls, he tersely emailed back that the state no longer does those fish counts: I should contact FirstLight Power for information. I guess our fish are now fully privatized. And when it has come to the power company requesting larger and more frequent water withdrawals on the Connecticut upstream at the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station, it appears the Division has never seen a company proposal it wasn’t just fine with.

This 2016 season has literally been the worst year for Massachusetts fish passage information since 2010, when FirstLight’s Northfield Mountain broke down, fouling its pumping tunnels with 45,000 cubic square yards of reservoir muck. They didn’t operate from May – November and fish passage at Turners Falls–it was subsequently revealed, had jumped 600-800% above yearly averages. We didn’t get that information until late as well. Seem a little fishy to you?

Some of us actually care about wild fish and living rivers. And, frankly, if I were reduced to thinking that following a truckload of factory fish to its dumping site for a day’s angling was a wildlife experience—well, I’d just as soon get one of those wind-up fish carousels you can hold–the ones with the tiny plastic pole and the revolving, yapping fish mouths. The Massachusetts Division of “Manufactured” Fish & Wildlife–sounds about right where wild fish and the Connecticut River is concerned.

Karl Meyer of Greenfield is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists.

CASHING IN ON A CASH COW

Posted by on 15 Jan 2016 | Tagged as: American shad, climate change, Connecticut River, Connecticut River shortnose sturgeon, Daily Hampshire Gazette, endangerd shortnose sturgeon, Endangered Species Act, Energy Capital Partners, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, federally-endangered shortnose sturgeon, FERC, FirstLight, fossil plant, GDF-Suez FirstLight, ISO, ISO New England, MA Division of Fish and Wildlife, National Marine Fisheries Service, New Hampshire, NMFS, NOAA, non-renewable, Northfield Mountain, Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station, Rock Dam, shortnose sturgeon, The Greenfield Recorder, The Pioneer, The Recorder, Turners Falls dam, Uncategorized, US Fish & Wildlife Service, USFWS, Vermont

The following piece appeared in the Daily Hampshire Gazette(www.gazettenet.com) and the Recorder(www.recorder.com) in the first week of January 2016.

CASHING IN ON A CASH COW

Copyright © 2015 by Karl Meyer

Ever dreamed of owning your own bank? I got a deal for you! Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Project is for sale again, along with the Turners Falls canal and dam—and a string of little assets down in Connecticut. But Northfield’s the cash cow. Fourth time in a decade they’re unloading this golden calf–always at a tidy chunk of change. A quickie corporate win-win! It’s really like an A.T.M., run at the expense of the Connecticut River ecosystem.

Place works like a giant toilet–suck huge amounts of the river backward and uphill, then flush it all back and—viola, money spews out the other end. Could be ours! They’re holding bidder tours as we speak. I just need a few partners with ready credit. We go in on short-money and cash-in on the no-brainer electricity “spot market” for a few years. Then, with inflated power-price futures in play, we offload this puppy for a final cash-out of 30%–maybe 50%!

Here’s how it goes down. With the cheerleading of Northfield’s not-so-silent partner, ISO New England–the “independent” system operator (created by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission), we simply slow dance this darlin’ past the banks, the FTC and FERC. Then, in 2016, its sweet business-as-usual—maybe with new shirts for employees.

Trust me, this works every time. Everyone walks away with full pockets—without the public knowing what hit them. Northfield got wholesaled in 2006 by Northeast Generations Services(formerly WMECO—formerly of Northeast Utilities, now Eversource—you follow?) They grabbed a quick $1.34 billion for the package, slipping it to a trio of Jersey venture capitalists, Energy Capital Partners. ECP renamed their little project FirstLight Energy. Those smartest-guys-in-the-room hung-in and grabbed Northfield’s peaking spot-market profits for two years, before off-loading it for a nifty $1.89 billion in that crazy year, 2008.

With that, GDF-Suez, third owner in four years, swept in–the world’s largest private energy corporation, based in France. They’ve been gobbling up contracts to run water systems across the US under the name Suez United Water. But GDF-Suez recently did a clever name-change to Engie, keeping the public totally confused. They got game! The true costs of these premium-priced plant sales get buried in the list of acronyms on electric bills. It’s like owning a 25-mile stretch the Connecticut River to dip into for cash any time you please.

This is a turn-key operation–with us, the new guys, pushing the buttons. The joke is that the public thinks Northfield is a hydropower operation, while this baby has never produced a single watt of its own energy. It’s imported!–huge swatches of bulk electricity now run-in from outside the region to suck a mountain’s worth of flow from the Connecticut up to a reservoir. Then, dump it out on the power lines when prices peak. It’s hugely inefficient, now largely carbon-based—and massively damaging to the river. But amazingly profitable!

That’s where we come in. Sure it was built as a sister to the region’s nukes to gobble up their monstrous stream of unused electricity–because nukes can’t shut down their feverish output at night. That’s how you get to put in a giant straw and suck the Connecticut uphill at a rate of 15,000 cubic feet per second–more than enough to pull the river backward for a mile downstream under low flow conditions. But who’s watching? When the region’s last nuke shut down, nobody said ‘boo!’ with Northfield going fossil. What climate change?

And when it became clear years back that Northfield operations were imperiling spawning success for the federally-endangered shortnose sturgeon at the Rock Dam in Turners Falls–their singular natural spawning site going back into pre-history, again, nobody came forward. Not the US Fish & Wildlife Service, the National Marine Fisheries Service or the MA Division of Fish & Wildlife—or any river protection group. No bureaucrats, no suits–nobody. At Turners Falls—instead of 70% of migratory fish heading upstream toward Vermont and New Hampshire, they squeeze out 4%. We have it made!

Still skeptical? ISO and FERC are addicted to Northfield—even though its power-flush characteristics might come into play maybe a handful of times a year, if at all. For this they let owners cash in on the river whenever y they want. In 2012, the owners of this “asset” collection of 1500 megawatts(of which over 1100 MW derived from Northfield alone) told investors a full 40% of their profits were realized from “Capacity Fees.” What that means is you get paid for holding back the Connecticut! They’re not required to use it at all if they don’t want to—just flush when prices are high. Paid for being you! Of course another 50% of profit comes from generating, though the public doesn’t know it only operates a few hours a day when prices are highest.

Here’s the kicker: in 2014, after a cry-wolf energy deficit winter that never materialized, FERC–with ISO as cheerleader, sanctioned the doubling of those “capacity fees”. Plants are now collecting 2X the amount they were two years back, for having the potential to dump some power on the lines—not for actually generating. Paid for being you! With 1100 potential megawatts at Northfield, how quick can you say “windfall at the public’s expense?” Lastly, Northfield petitioned FERC the last two winters to increase its reservoir storage by a full 25%, with ISO their biggest cheerleader. FERC agreed, twice. Double-dip with a cherry, anyone?

This thing’s a cinch! Even with all the nukes shut—when this should have been moth-balled to emergency use as more climate-warming, spent nuclear junk, it soldiers on as a virtual river monopoly with the blessings of FERC and ISO. Trust me, no one goes to court. Ecosystem damage, costs to the public? Fuggetaboutit!

Got credit? Give a call!

Next Page »