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CONNECTICUT RIVER CASUAL TRAGIC HISTORY HIKE: Sat., May 14th

Posted by on 06 May 2022 | Tagged as: America's best landscaped sewer, Andrew Fisk, Connecticut River, Connecticut River Day of Mourning, Connecticut River ecosystem, Conte National Fish & Wildlife Refuge, Federal Conte Anadromous Fish Research Center, federally-endangered Connecticut River shortnose sturgeion, Great Falls, Jesse Leddick, Julie Crocker, Landmark Supreme Court Decision 1872, Mark Tisa, Martin Suuberg, migratory fish, Nation's best landscaped sewer, National Marine Fisheries Service, net-loss power, no license to kill, NOAA, Northfield Mountain, Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station, public trust, Rock Dam, shad, shortnose sturgeon, Silvio O. Conte Connecticut River National Fish and Wildlife Refuge, The Recorder, Turners Falls dam, Turners Falls power canal, US Fish & Wildlife Service, US Geological Survey's Conte Fish Lab, USFWS, Wendi Weber

THE CONNECTICUT RIVER CASUAL TRAGIC HISTORY HIKE:
Saturday, May 14, 2022, 9:30 – 11:00 a.m..

The April 2, 2022, Connecticut River Day of Mourning. Photo courtesy of John Bos.

Trip meets 9:30 in the courtyard of the Great Falls Discovery Center and continues onto the Rail Trail. Photo Copyright © 2022 by Karl Meyer

I hope some folks are able join this long and casual history walk. * * Please be aware that it will be close to 5 miles–with the return to Great Falls to be done on your own. As noted, a bike or even a 2nd car-pool, relay-car can be left near the walk’s end and return point. Bikes can be locked near Conte Lab–also, relay cars could be parked in the public lot at the end of G-Street, where “Migratory Way” continues along the canal heading the last 1/2 mile to Rock Dam. (I’ll be on my bike.)

The April 2nd Connecticut River Day of Mourning. Photo courtesy of John Bos.

The Connecticut River casual, tragic history hike
Saturday, May 14, 2022, 9:30 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.
Meet: Great Falls Discovery Center courtyard, Avenue A, Turners Falls
Free. No pre-registration required. * * Rain cancels.

Join journalist Karl Meyer for this 2-1/2 mile (one-way) unnatural history walk, starting at the Great Falls Discovery Center and Turners Falls dam’s failed salmon ladder. This casual hike partly follows the Rail Trail’s 200 year old transportation and power canal. We’ll cross it on a one-way bridge, pass a 1906 generating station; then head to G Street and down “Migratory Way” to unprotected sturgeon habitat at the river’s Rock Dam near the USGS Conte Fish Lab. We end above the failed fish ladder adjacent to Cabot hydro station. NOTE: * * Participants responsible for returning to Great Falls on their own (total: 5-mile round trip). It’s possible to pre-stash a locked bike near Conte Lab along Migratory Way, then cycle back via the Rail Trail.

DEAD American shad at the Rock Dam, May 2021: a public trust migratory fish guaranteed safe passage to VT and NH waters by the US Supreme Court back in 1872. Photo Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer

*** OH, and here are a few LINKS, the first two comprising defense of an undefended river by citizens; the last three are where foreign vultures are spending the ill-gotten spoils from our massively broken river–far from our Valley ecosystem:

https://www.recorder.com/my-turn-Meyer-Don-t-Take-FirstLight-for-Granted-46104531

https://www.recorder.com/ltr-Ogden-FirstLight-s-Lack-of-Urgency-Threatening-Shortnose-Sturgeon-46144862

https://energycentral.com/news/invenergy-and-energyre-secure-offshore-wind-lease-award-and-announce-formation-investor

https://www.bizjournals.com/pittsburgh/news/2022/05/02/hydro-electric-firstlight-allegheny-8-9.html

https://apnews.com/press-release/business-wire/business-new-york-pennsylvania-ca11a3273cfb45eeb0e7181075ebe2df

NO DEAL: amid public opposition FirstLight’s secret Northfield Mountain settlement plans stumble.

Posted by on 10 Jan 2022 | Tagged as: America's best landscaped sewer, American shad, Canada, Clean Water Act, Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Connecticut River, Connecticut River ecosystem, Connecticut River migratory fisheries restoration, Conte National Fish & Wildlife Refuge, Endangered Species Act, EPA, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, federal trust fish, FERC, FERC license, FirstLight, 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, migratory fish, Nation's best landscaped sewer, NMFS, NOAA, Northfield Mountain, Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station, P-2485, Public Comment period, shad, Silvio O. Conte Connecticut River National Fish and Wildlife Refuge, State of Delaware, US Fish & Wildlife Service, USFWS


NO DEAL: amid public opposition FirstLight’s secret Northfield Mountain settlement plans stumble.

Failing in December to secure a secrecy-shrouded agreement, foreign-owned FL petitions FERC again for what’s now an open-ended “Delay of Action/Extension of Time” request. Thus the opportunity for critical public testimony in FL’s Federal Energy Regulatory relicense bid for Northfield remains WIDE OPEN. (**SEE simple FERC filing instructions at end of post)

As scores of public testimony to end Northfield Mountain’s devastation has poured into the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission of late, secret license deals with federal and state fish and agencies here in Massachusetts continue to elude FirstLight Power. The MA Division of Fish & Wildlife, US Fish & Wildlife, MA DEP and the National Marine Fisheries Service–responsible to the public for protecting the Connecticut’s migratory and resident fish, flows, and water quality under established law, are legally empowered with “conditioning authority” to end the half century of slaughter wrought by Northfield’s deadly suctioning. They currently hold the keys to determining if the Commonwealth hosts New England’s river-reversing, ecosystem grim reaper for more decades to come.

Democracy for coming generations means not leaving our river in the hands of a private corporation for ANOTHER half century.

FirstLight filed their latest FERC delay bid on January 4, 2022, the same day as Ethel White of Easthampton filed her FERC testimony stating, “I write concerning the Northfield, MA hydroelectric plant application for recertification. I strongly request that recertification be denied,” Meanwhile, FirstLight, that same day filed a “Continued Request to Defer Issuance of Notice of Acceptance / Ready for Environmental Analysis” with FERC for their Delaware tax-sheltered MA facilities here. Yet, with this latest delay request it appears they’ve discovered their venture capital plans for the Connecticut River are not being swallowed whole here in New England.

Parent-owned by Canadian venture capital giant PSP Investments, FirstLight has once again punted on deadlines in what has now become a decade long slog to continue the massive predation of the region’s key ecosystem artery, after a full half century. In its own January 4, 2022 filing FirstLight again begged FERC for relief of its own previously promised deadlines: “FirstLight requests that the Commission continue to defer issuance of the REA Notice until after January 31, 2022, to allow the parties to focus on the agreement in principle. If the parties are able to reach an agreement in principle by that time, they will then request that the Commission further defer issuance of the REA Notice to allow for negotiation of a fully developed, binding settlement agreement that the parties would submit to the Commission as an offer of settlement pursuant to 18 C.F.R. § 385.602.” An “REA” is FERC-speak for “ready for environmental analysis.”

In its Final License Application FirstLight’s big bid as a concession for the massive sucking fish kill annually at Northfield was a temporary 1,000 foot net, with ¾ inch mesh, to be deployed from upstream, and angled to near its suction tunnels to deflect some of the 24 species of adult fish from its giant, river-reversing vortex. That is literally a year round open door to the obliteration of 100s of millions of eggs and tiny young of developing migratory American shad and the two dozen resident and migrant species of the river—but in particular the key spawning, rearing and out-migrating months between late May and mid-October…

Importantly in that regard, the window for DEMOCRACY on our Connecticut River remains wide open for citizen to go on the public with FERC, and as well in the region’s media. Of late, literally scores of citizens have done just that, in FERC testimony that Northfield’s devastation must end and no new license be offered to FirstLight.

Below is Ethel White’s full January 4th on-the-record testimony, from the same day FL requested more FERC time for their venture capital plans for New England’s Great River, its life, and the future generations who are all entitled to a living ecosystem.

* * But first, here’s how you can stand up, on-the-record, in this critical time for the Connecticut River’s future:

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.

Document Accession #: 20220104-5000 Filed Date: 01/04/2022
Ethel S. White, Easthampton, MA.

I write concerning the Northfield, MA hydroelectric plant application for recertification. I strongly request that recertification be denied. Your commission’s decisions are key to how we deal with climate change. The vast majority of Americans believe that climate change is one of the top issues of today, if not THE top issue. We are on the brink of losing our planet’s ability to sustain human life, and large hydroelectric plants are not beneficial to rivers, aquatic life, or human existence. The Connecticut River is a vital artery in New England, and losing it to environmental degradation would be a tragedy. I hope the Commission will regulate this particular energy source in the proper way, by closing it down.
Sincerely, Ethel S. White

* * Agency heads and personnel representing the public trust:

wendi_weber@fws.gov, Director Region 5 US Fish & Wildlife Service; andrew.tittler@sol.doi.gov, lead council at the table for USFWS; melissa_grader@fws.gov, at the table for our migratory fish; julie.crocker@noaa.gov, National Marine Fisheries Service Endangered Fish Recovery Branch Chief (endangered sturgeon); william.mcdavitt@noaa.gov, at the table for our migratory fish; mark.tisa@state.ma.us, Director of the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, jesse.leddick@state.ma.us, Chief of Regulatory Review MA Division of Fisheries & Wildlife.

The wave of Connecticut River public testimony against Northfield Mountain continues to build

Posted by on 27 Dec 2021 | Tagged as: American shad, Connecticut River ecosystem, Connecticut River Refuge, conservancy, Conte National Fish & Wildlife Refuge, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, FERC, FERC Comments, FERC licensing process, FirstLight, Landmark Supreme Court Decision 1872, MA Department of Energy and Environmental Affairs, MA Division of Fish and Wildlife, Massachusetts DEP, Massachusetts Division of Fish & Wildlife, National Marine Fisheries Service, NMFS, Northfield Mountain, Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station, P-2485, public trust, shad, shad larvae, shortnose sturgeon, Silvio O. Conte Connecticut River National Fish and Wildlife Refuge, State of Delaware, US Fish & Wildlife Service, US Supreme Court, USFWS

THE WAVE of Connecticut River public FERC testimony against Northfield Mountain continues building…

AMID the time when secret “final” settlement negotiations– initiated by FirstLight, are taking place out of sight with the US Fish & Wildlife Service, MA Fish & Wildlife, MA DEP, National Marine Fisheries, and others, MEMBERS OF THE PUBLIC are the ones standing up for a living future for the River and this four-state New England ecosystem.

They are not waiting for scripted guidelines from councils and conservancies that have failed to take on this profligate devastation for the last half century. They are going ON-THE-RECORD now–shining a light for the Connecticut River BEFORE any grim compromises get inked.

PLEASE READ DOWN to see the LATEST 8 entries into the public record. Though the “date of entry” is recorded as 12/27/2021, six of these eight testimonies were filed on Christmas Day and Boxing Day(the day after Christmas).

NOW IS THE TIME to enter on-the-record testimony into the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s public licensing process.

HERE’S HOW:

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.

THE LASTEST PUBLIC TESTIMONY STARTS HERE:

Document Accession #: 20211227-5019 Filed Date: 12/27/2021
Jon Burgess, Northfield, MA.

Northfield pump storage project constructed as direct adjunct to Vernon nuke power plant, to utilize what would be ‘wasted’ energy, as nuke plants can’t shut down easily. Vernon nuke plant is now dead. No more wasted energy to utilize.

The environmental damage done by the hydro storage plant far exceeds any ’emergency backup power’ justification. Their motive is simple & straightforward: Buy low, sell high, make profit.

I enjoy the tidbit benefits (boat ramp….) First Light offers. But it still can’t offset fish death, bank erosion, & other damages.

On a side note, it was a struggle to navigate the maze to get this message to you. I wish there were an easier way for the rest of Northfield to chime in on this issue, as there would be no doubt about the sentiment here. Thank you, JB

Document Accession #: 20211227-5009 Filed Date: 12/27/2021
John Nelson Jr., Plainfield, MA.

Regarding FirstLight Relicensing of the Northfield, MA, Pump Storage Facility:

This facility should not be relicensed; it is not a renewable energy source for peak electricity demand because pumping water uphill generates greenhouse gas. It has been also documented that the biota of the Connecticut River are harmed in the process. If, and despite these concerns, relicensing is to proceed, an environmental impact statement should be required. A solar installation with battery storage on top of the mountain would be a
much more suitable source of energy.
John Nelson

Document Accession #: 20211227-5008 Filed Date: 12/27/2021
Vicki Citron, Colrain, MA.

I am a concerned Massachusetts individual who lives near the Connecticut river. I drive over it every day on my way to work. It is appalling to me how low the river is and how high the adjacent canal is. FirstLight drains the river of all possibility of the river being a healthy and supportive environment for the fish and other wildlife that inhabit it.

To add insult to injury, FirstLight’s parent-owner, Canada’s PSP Investments, registered their Nothfield Mountain and Turners Falls hydro units into Delaware tax shelters. In addition to depriving aquatic life of its natural benefits, FirstLight is depriving Massachusetts of its due in tax revenue.

They are literally sucking river and the residents of Massachusetts dry.
Please do the right thing and deny a license renewal to FirstLight.

Thank you.

Document Accession #: 20211227-5007 Filed Date: 12/27/2021
Louise P. Doud, Warwick, MA.

The Northfield Mountain Pumping Storage Station has got to go. It does not make sense in this day and age. It needs to be closed forthwith. To expend electricity generated by fossil fuels from the regional electrical grid to pump water uphill just so the electricity generated from dropping tons of water back downhill into the river is made available for peak demand times is wasteful and foolish. Then there is the issue of its deadly effect on the
wildlife in the Connecticut River and erosion of its riverbanks over a span of 23 miles. Over the years of the Pumping Storage Station’s operation, the sucking up of tons of water, fish, aquatic animals and plant life has resulted in killing millions, and then their dead bodies get dumped back into the river. This is devastating to the ecology of the great Connecticut River.

On top of all this, First Light, the relatively new for-profit owner of the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station, secretly moved its corporate assets for the station and their Turners Falls hydroelectric facility to Delaware – to dodge Massachusetts taxes. There is no excuse for this. FirstLight’s attempts to keep the public from understanding their abandonment of supporting local school and government infrastructures by spreading around donations here and there and garnering publicity from doing so is nothing
short of a betrayal. Whitewashing the truth. Greenwashing its corporate greed.Because, this is all about money. Not about our communities, not about caring for our regional natural environment, not about local charity. You have plenty of reasons to cite First Light’s behavior and the pumped storage station itself as deleterious to the state and the region and violating its agreements with the Massachusetts Fish and Wildlife and the
Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection. Stop this madness and deny the re-licensing of the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station.Now. Please. Do the Right Thing.

Document Accession #: 20211227-5006 Filed Date: 12/27/2021
Fergus Marshall, Chicopee, MA.

Dear members of the FERC e comment board,
My name is Fergus Marshall a lifelong resident of Chicopee Massachusetts. I have long enjoyed and respected the immense beauty of the river that my river, the Chicopee, flows into, the Connecticut.

I have been made aware just recently about a little known fact that has me very concerned. For many years I have been known of the project at Northfield Mountain, the pumped storage project which takes water from the river pumps it uphill to a reservoir during offpeak demand for electricity,stores it until there is peak load on the grid, then releases it to generate electricity, thereby creatingprofit an reliability.

This appears to have been successful for many decades but the terrible toll on aquatic life has been enormous. This facility actually causes the river to flow backwards, and in the process sucks the aquatic organisms through pumps and then through turbines killing everything. The Supreme Court ruling of 1872 mandates the safe passage for migratory fish so how is it that this is allowed?

I understand that this has, in the past, been a successful method of energy storage, however now its become an antiquated method that only makes profit for a foreign corporation, First Light of Canada.

This is almost the year 2022, are we not capable of a much better solution. Worldwide, innovators have been putting in place real solutions such as battery storage.

I am very concerned that First Lights profit making schemes are siphoning much needed money that could be used for real energy solutions for the twenty-first century.

Respectfully,
Fergus Marshall
55 Gaylord St
Chicopee Ma
01013

Document Accession #: 20211227-5005 Filed Date: 12/27/2021
Norma Roche, Northampton, MA.

I am writing to urge you to consider the health of the Connecticut River ecosystem and fishery before all else as you consider the conditions for relicensing of the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station. I’ve been reading Karl Meyer’s columns on the state of the river in the Daily Hampshire Gazette with growing alarm, particulary his latest one (12/22/21) about the licensing process, as well the column of 6/2/21 about the operations of the pumping station leaving hatchling sturgeon high and dry.

I have little technical knowledge of fisheries or river regulations, but I would ask, as Mr. Meyer does, why those responsible for negotiationg the conditions of First Light’s license aren’t bound by the 1972 US Supreme Court mandate that all migratory fish have safe passage up and down all rivers. If the pumping station is sucking up and killing shortnose sturgeon (already endangered), shad (whose populations are plummeting), and other fish and aquatic animals, that’s far too high a price to pay for electricity. It sounds like the shad, in particular, have nourished people not only in our region’s past, but right up to this summer. They’re popular with fishermen, and those who catch them eat them. Such a supplemental food source, in these times of economic and and climate uncertainty, isn’tsomething we can afford to lose.

I understand that the pumping station is used for peak power generation. Given the problems associated with that practice, I’m trying to do my part. I have solar panels on my roof, and I’ve signed up with a Shave the Peak program, which alerts me when high power consumption is anticipated so that I can turn off things in my house. I’d much rather do that than contribute to fish kills. Can’t we “shave the peak” on a larger scale and do without the pumping station? Many federal agencies, as well as state governments in our region, are working hard to develop new sources of electricity. None of these will be free of problems, of course. But given that the relicensing period is 50 years, I have trouble imagining that we will need the pumping station for anything like that long.

I’m also an avid whitewater kayaker and member of American Whitewater, and I’ve sent you comments in the past urging you to incorporate water releases into dam relicensing agreements. I sincerely appreciate those releases, as I do the improvements First Light and its predecessors have made to boating access spots and other recreational facilities. But I hope, and believe, that
my comments have always added, as long as it doesn’t hurt the fish.
Of course fish die in the course of many recreational activities such as fishing!but never at the scale at which we’re losing them to the pumping station. My entertainment is certainly not worth these losses.

I hope you will insist that if the pumping station is to continue its operations, it must no longer kill fish. I’m sure that modifications to keep the fish safe could be costly, but it’s not economical to make them,then the station should not be operating.
Thanks very much,

Document Accession #: 20211227-5004 Filed Date: 12/27/2021
Seth Wilpan, FLORENCE, MA.

I am writing to urge you to NOT re-license the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Project. In the words of Karl Meyer, participating stakeholder and intervener in these Federal Energy Regulatory Commission licensing proceedings since 2012, this project is “the grimmest electric appliance ever installed on our river. Just like an electric toilet, Northfield squanders massive amounts of grid electricity to literally pull a river backward and uphill” flushing it and all its fish back out, dead, while reselling the secondhand juice as twice-produced watts to distant markets at peak prices.”

The stated goals of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service include the
restoration of safe passage of a number of fish species and to protect the river for future generations, which is in response to and in accordance with the U.S. Supreme Court mandate. The agency has failed utterly to live up to this mission. At the same time, the Canadian company PSP Investments, which is the parent company of FirstLight which current owns and operates the project, has set itself up to evade local taxes. They are making millions destroying our river.

The only impact of refusing to renew the license will be decreased profits for the companies that run it. Can you in good conscience authorize the continued destruction of this vital and irreplaceable facet of the natural world?

Document Accession #: 20211227-5003 Filed Date: 12/27/2021
Robert Sweener, Westhampton, MA.

Regarding the re-licensing of FirstLIght Hydro on the Connecticut River, I unequivocally say NO to this proceeding. Local communities and wildlife will not profit from this project. No amount of mega-profits justify this environmental degradation. We’ve seen enough damage from what they can do.
Thank you,
Bob Sweener
Westhampton Massachusetts

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.

TODAY! Our RIVER, Our REFUGE; OUR FISH! * Last Standout: 10 am, Sunderland Bridge or ** 4 pm US Fish & Wildlife HQ, Hadley

Posted by on 29 Nov 2021 | Tagged as: America's best landscaped sewer, American shad, Connecticut River Refuge, Conte National Fish & Wildlife Refuge, FERC licensing process, FirstLight Power, Greenfield, MA Division of Fish and Wildlife, Massachusetts DEP, Massachusetts Division of Fish & Wildlife, Northfield Mountain, Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Project, P-2485, Public Sector Pension Investments, Rock Dam, shad, Silvio O. Conte Connecticut River National Fish and Wildlife Refuge, Wendi Weber

TODAY! Our RIVER, Our REFUGE; OUR FISH! * Last Standout: 10 am, Sunderland Bridge, or ** 4 pm, US Fish & Wildlife HQ, Hadley

Dear Friends,

In 1997 our Connecticut River became the backbone and central artery of the S.O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge—an ecosystem-wide refuge encompassing the entire four-state Connecticut River Watershed. There are 568 national wildlife refuges, but just two specifically name “fish” in the title. One of them is OURS.

This December 2nd Canada-owned FirstLight Power has scheduled a final license “settlement” meeting with the US Fish & Wildlife Service, National Marine Fisheries, MA Division of Fisheries and Wildlife and MA DEP–hoping to sew-up their venture capital interests in our river for decades. Their cash cow is Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station—since 1972 the river’s deadliest, net-loss power contraption. This flow-reversing, grid-powered machine inhales miles of living river; then spits it back for profit—with all its fish, insects and aquatic life, dead.

FirstLight’s final license application offer is a death trap. “FirstLight proposes to install a barrier net in front of the Northfield Mountain Project intake/tailrace to prevent the entrainment of migratory fish when the Northfield Mountain Project is pumping. The net will be approximately 30-foot-high by 1050-feet-long wide with 3/4-inch mesh from top to bottom.” That temporary net, August to November, has ¾ inch mesh so large it amounts to a lethal, suctioning doorway for millions of eggs, larvae and baby shad—and, those of 26 other resident and migratory fish.

THERE IS NO REFUGE FOR FISH on the Connecticut River in Massachusetts. There’s only a death trap. So I am asking you to stand–one last time, ahead of FL’s grim, secrecy-filled December 2 meeting, and send a message to the US Fish and Wildlife Service: Our RIVER, Our REFUGE; OUR FISH! I long-ago vowed to bring our River’s relentless pillaging into the open across these last 9 years as a journalist and relicensing stakeholder—and that if there was one more thing to do to rescue this ecosystem for those who come later, I would not let it drop.

On Tuesday morning at 6 am, my dear friend and colleague Dave Dersham and I leave the Greenfield Common on a 20 mile protest walk to USFWS Headquarter in Hadley. We’ll carry fish nets–full of holes, representing FirstLight’s sham safety net. We’l reach Sunderland Bridge at 10 am, and hope you will meet us for a brief rally—with your own full-of-holes safety nets, stockings and signs to send a message to US Fish & Wildlife Regional Director Wendi Weber: Our RIVER, Our REFUGE; OUR FISH! Please bring a note card with a message to Ms. Weber we’ll deliver in writing at around 4 pm at the USFWS Headquarters, 300 Westgate Center Drive, Hadley—just past the Rt. 116/Rt. 9 intersection. If folks met us there, we’d be delighted as well.

Thank you for marching to Northfield Mountain, to ravaged riverbanks where sturgeon can’t spawn, and standing out on the Turners Falls Bridge and Greenfield Common–for the letters to FERC, To the Editor, and the Oped pieces. Tuesday is “Giving Tuesday.” Let’s stand together to offer a real REFUGE to coming generations—and stop FirstLight’s grim license to kill.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

www.karlmeyerwriting.com/blog

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

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

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

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

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

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

ENERGY executives in the private/quasi-public sphere:

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

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

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

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

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

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

FEDERAL PUBLIC officials:

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

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

E-mail: Sean.mcdermott@noaa.gov

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

E-mail: Julie.crocker@noaa.gov

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

E-mail: timmermann.timothy@epa.gov

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

E-mail: wendi_weber@usfws.gov

MASSACHUSETTS state officials:

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

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

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

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

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

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

E-mail: Jesse.Leddick@mass.gov

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

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

ENDGAME LOOMS FOR NEW ENGLAND’S GREAT RIVER

Posted by on 10 Sep 2020 | Tagged as: American shad, Anadromous Fish Conservation Act, Atlantic salmon, blueback herring, climate-destroying, Connecticut River, Connecticut River ecosystem, Connecticut River shortnose sturgeon, Conte National Fish & Wildlife Refuge, endangerd shortnose sturgeon, Endangered Species Act, ESA, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, FERC, FERC licensing process, FirstLight, FirstLight Power Resources, Fish and Aquatics Study Team, GHG, Massachusetts Division of Fish & Wildlife, National Marine Fisheries Service, National Marine Fisheries Service, New Hampshire, NMFS, Northfield Mountain, Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station, pumped storage, right-to-know, Rock Dam, shad, shortnose sturgeon, Silvio O. Conte Connecticut River National Fish and Wildlife Refuge, The Revelator, The Society of Environmental Journalists, Turners Falls, Turners Falls dam, Turners Falls power canal, Uncategorized, US Fish & Wildlife Service, USFWS, Vermont

Endgame Looms for England’s Great River Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer


The impoverished Connecticut River looking downstream to Turners Falls Dam. The run stops here. Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer All Rights Reserved. (CLICK x 3 to enlarge)

NOTE: The following piece first appeared as an Op-Ed in The Revelator, an initiative of the Center for Biological Diversity on August 26, 2020. www.therevelator.org

FURTHER NOTE: * On September 1, 2020, after this piece first appeared, FirstLight petitioned FERC for an open-ended date to extend the filing of their Final License Applications citing a need for new test data to respond to the USF&WS. If FERC agrees, that would add another 4 months and possibly another full year, to this endless process–without any long-awaited relief for a flow starved Connecticut River. It’s time for FERC to wrap this up.

After a half-century of failures, the recovery of the Connecticut River ecosystem hangs in the balance. Will authorities finally act to save it?

Rivers should not die in the dark.

On Aug. 31 FirstLight Power Resources is expected to file its final license applications with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to continue operating three hydro facilities profiting off massive water diversions from the Connecticut River in Massachusetts. The conditions written into FERC licenses can last up to 50 years.

These applications signal the beginning of the final chapter in determining the future of the four-state river at the heart of the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge, founded to protect a 7.2-million-acre watershed. Their rendering will decide the future of migratory fish, river flows and a host of embattled ecosystem conditions on New England’s longest river, some running counter to laws in place since 1872.

When decisions affecting a river for decades are being made, the public has a right to know of the stakes, the players and the key decision makers. In this case the public knows little of issues potentially affecting 2.4 million people in a sprawling watershed.

One of the failed fish ladders sending all spring migrants into the Turners Falls power canal maize. Across 45 years just 5 shad in 100 have succeeded in passing the Turners Falls Dam–leaving 50 miles of spawning habitat in 3 states largely empty. Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer All Rights Reserved.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Marine Fisheries Service and Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife have been at the table in this FERC license-determining process since 2012. But three years back, all parties signed nondisclosure agreements with FirstLight — ostensibly to facilitate settlement discussions on flows, habitat, dismal fish passage and endless mortality cycles at these Massachusetts hydro sites. Those NDAs have kept these issues largely out of the media, even as initial settlement talks broke off a year and a half ago.

*Since 2012 I’ve been a FERC-recognized intervener in the relicensing process. I chose not to sign the company’s confidentiality agreement in order to preserve the right to address and highlight the critical, long-term decisions being made about the Connecticut River in a process that remains largely out of public view.

FirstLight is part of the giant Canadian investment outfit PSP Investments, which arrived in Massachusetts four years back to buy up these facilities from GDF Suez. In 2018 it quickly reregistered the facilities as limited liability tax shelters in Delaware. Regardless of their state of incorporation, the licenses they now vie for will each be subject to current federal and state environmental laws, under terms mandated by the fish agencies and FERC.

Entranceway to the “Great Falls Discovery Center” where, most days out of the year, there are literally no great falls running here at all… The sprawling rocky riverbed is an emptied bowl. Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer.

Of more than 500 U.S. refuges, Conte is one of just three with “fish” in its name. Today hopes for the long-term protections of its fish and the river comprising its central artery rest heavily in the hands of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Marine Fisheries Service and Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife. They have “conditioning authority” in these relicensings — mandates to protect the life in this river system. FERC, the ultimate relicensing umpire here, is also mandated to ensure compliance with environmental laws. For the fish agencies this is their one chance to redeem some far-reaching mistakes made by their predecessors.

Forty-five years ago these agencies — operating on limited information and pursuing dreams of reprising a salmon not seen on this river since 1809 — signed agreements with different owners of these facilities. That hobbled, for generations, a four-state migratory fisheries restoration for American shad and river herring and a recovery for federally endangered shortnose sturgeon. They sanctioned the daily use of the massive river-reversing pumped storage facility still chewing through generations of migratory and resident fish today. Concurrently they left two miles of the river emptied downstream, its flow diverted into a turbine-lined power canal that all migrants must negotiate in order to access the next 50 miles of open spawning habitat. Just 5 shad in 100 have ever succeeded. Perhaps worse, the river’s only documented natural spawning habitat for the endangered shortnose sturgeon was left without life-sustaining flow.

A Tale of Two Salmon, a River Without Fish

The last wild salmon run on the Connecticut River was recorded in 1809.

Science later revealed the salmons’ end was likely a combination of warming temperatures following the unusually cold period known as the Little Ice Age coupled with modern dam building.

For 165 years there were no salmon. Then, in 1974, a single fish arrived at Holyoke Dam. Far from being a native of the Connecticut River, this was a new hybrid — a returning fish produced at one of several federal hatcheries completed five years prior. This salmon’s genes, like the genes of all the fish that would return in subsequent years, were cobbled together using salmon from several still-surviving runs in northern New England.

This past June 30 marked a different milestone on the river. It ended the first season in 46 years when not a single hatchery-derived Atlantic salmon returned past Massachusetts’ Holyoke Dam.

That unnatural history event passed with little fanfare. Its silent-spring absence marked the end of a half-century-old program that consumed hundreds of millions of dollars and ate up far too much room in a badly broken ecosystem. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service abandoned its hatchery program at the end of the 2012 migration season, but across its 43 years — which saw the annual release of millions of fry and smolts to tributaries in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont and New Hampshire — so few adults returned that no one was ever allowed to catch one.

This second salmon ending highlights the fish agencies’ last shot at returning ancient ocean connections to the river’s still-viable, age-old runs of American shad, blueback herring and federally endangered shortnose sturgeon in three states.

All these species have been guaranteed safe passage on U.S. rivers, going back to the landmark Supreme Court decision in Holyoke Company v. Lyman in 1872. That finding centered on the dam in Holyoke, Massachusetts and held that private dam owners operating on U.S. rivers must provide for the free movement, upstream and down, of migratory fish past their facilities.

Looking west across the CT to the Holyoke Dam fish lift complex. Since 1955 it is one of the East Coast’s few fish passage successes. Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer All Rights Reserved.

Its implementation on New England’s river is now 148 years overdue.

A River Run in Reverse

What’s ultimately at issue here is flow.

Having taken a back seat for generations, wild runs of shad, herring and sturgeon remain in desperate need of passage and consistent, exponentially increased river flow in FirstLight’s hydro-complex dominated reach. It’s literally the weight of water that matters most to FirstLight. It’s money in the bank. And where flow diversion is concerned, it’s been pretty much a free ride for companies here for the past 50 years.

The 20 miles of river backed up into Vermont and New Hampshire behind Turners Falls Dam are massively suctioned for hours at up to 15,000 cubic feet per second to fill the 4-billion-gallon reservoir above the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station.

Northfield’s suction is so violent it literally reverses the Connecticut’s current for up to a mile downstream at times, erasing the essence of a living river system. The station kills everything it sucks in, from tiny fish eggs to full-size eels. In pumping mode it suctions the equivalent of 3,600 seven-bedroom mansions, each filled with the aquatic life of a river, vaporized every hour, for hours on end. Agency studies on America shad show tens of millions of eggs and larvae extinguished at Northfield annually, plus the deaths of over 2 million juvenile shad sucked in on migrations back to the sea. Five migrant species are subjected to Northfield. In all 24 species live here, most unstudied.

Warning floats on the CT at the entranceway to Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station’s massive subsurface suctioning site. Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer All Rights Reserved.

Northfield’s operations are nothing like classic hydro, operating to produce virgin electricity via a dam in or adjacent to a river. It’s actually an electric appliance, built to take advantage of excess, unused megawatts produced nightly at the nearby Vermont Yankee nuclear station. Northfield burns electricity to pump water from the river a mile uphill to into its reservoir tank, which was created by blasting off the top of a mountain. The company’s original owners would buy up Vermont Yankee’s cheap electricity to power its giant, reversible turbines. Later, during peak energy times, that now-lifeless river water would get sent back through the turbines to generate hours-long pulses of energy at peak market prices.

It’s a buy-low, sell-high operation, still running at the expense of a river system six years after Vermont Yankee shut down.

Idle bulldozers sit in the emptied bed of the giant NMPS reservoir on June 27, 2010–the year they broke their giant appliance by fouling the pumps with muck and silt. Sanctioned by the EPA for a cover-up and massively dumping the muck from their mile-long intake tunnel directly into the river, Northfield didn’t operate for over half a year. Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer. All Rights Reserved. (Click x3 to enlarge.)

Northfield is a net-loss energy machine — a giant underground appliance consuming massive amounts of grid electricity, half of it now generated by the climate-scorching natural gas that dominates New England’s power grid today. The station consumes 25% to 33% more juice than the secondhand megawatts it sends back by dumping deadened river water back through its turbines. It and a smaller pumped storage station in Connecticut are responsible for gobbling up 1.4% percent of the region’s energy in order to reproduce the few hours of secondhand juice they regenerate. According to grid operator ISO-New England, they are the only facilities whose operations flush out as negative input in the regional power mix.

Northfield has never generated a single watt of its own electricity. And though it may be fine as blunt instrument for use during the occasional power grid slump or rare emergency blackout, its endless, river-crippling, pump-and-purge cycle of regenerated megawatts is unnecessary for the daily operation of the New England grid. While its owners brag of being able to power a million homes for a few hours, they never mention having already burned through the energy of 1.25 million homes to do so. After its daily flush, Northfield is virtually dead in the water and must begin pulling from the grid and sucking life from the river all over.

Past mistakes not only allowed for this massive upstream disruption, they sanctioned diversion of nearly all flow, as well as all migrating fish, into a downstream power canal that on average just 5% of shad have ever successfully negotiated. That left another two miles of New England’s river dysfunctional, with the company providing just a dribble flow of 400 cubic feet per second in the riverbed in spring, when fish are moving upriver. That riverbed remains emptied of all flow more than half the other days of the year.

The most critical time for sustaining flows and the river’s migrants is April through June, when New England’s energy consumption is at its low annual ebb. But federal and state studies and in-river findings show that spring flows will need to be increased by a factor of 20, supplying 8,000 cfs rather than the current brook-like drizzle of 400 cfs. That’s what it will take to guide shad and blueback herring upstream in the river past Turners Falls Dam. That will also provide this river’s only endangered migrant the consistent flows required to successfully allow the shortnose sturgeon to spawn and ensure its larvae can develop in the cobbles at an ancient river pool in that impoverished reach.

Flow starved Connecticut River at the Rock Dam–critical shortnose sturgeon spawning and rearing site, May 13, 2018. Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer All Rights Reserved.

Back in 1967, when four New England states and these agencies signed the “Statement of Intent for the Cooperative Fishery Restoration Program for the Connecticut River Basin,” they projected some 38,000 salmon would return annually to this four-state ecosystem. For salmon, a pinnacle of sorts was reached in 1981, when 592 were tallied passing Holyoke. But for a hybrid fish whose wild prototype disappeared 160 years prior, it was downhill from there. Most years fewer than 100 salmon returned to the river.

That 1967 agreement also set annual run targets of one million American shad heading upstream, with 850,000 shad passing Turners Falls and 750,000 entering Vermont and New Hampshire habitats above Vernon Dam. The highest shad return saw 720,000 passing Holyoke in 1992. Sadly, they’ve never made it much farther.

The Run Stops in Massachusetts.

Just 36 miles upstream of Holyoke, all semblance of a successful restoration ends when the annual shad run reaches Turners Falls Dam. Of the 537,000 shad that passed Holyoke in 2017, just 48,000 — a mere 9% — squeezed back into the river beyond Turners Falls.

Vernon Dam between Vernon VT and Hinsdale NH, March 2020. Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer

The annual inversion at the next upstream dam in Vermont illustrates the perils on this broken river. In 2017 29,000 or 59% of the shad that survived the miseries of Turners Falls were subsequently counted passing Vernon Dam, 20 miles upriver. That inverted interstate ratio has been the case since 1975, with few shad managing to break out beyond the brutal ecosystem conditions in Massachusetts.

Why the Restoration Failed

The current restoration, congressionally authorized in 1967 and still operating today under the moniker of the Connecticut River Atlantic Salmon Commission, made their biggest blunder in 1975 when they signed off on new license requirements for upstream fish passage. They ultimately chose a design based on hydro project fish ladders on Washington State’s giant Columbia River, known for huge Pacific salmon runs. What got built was a three-ladder fish passage that forced all migrants out of their ancient river highway and into the byzantine maze of the company’s power canal, while leaving two miles of riverbed all but emptied of flow.

Scaled down and put in place at Turners Falls, it worked fine for the program’s few successfully returning hybrid salmon but failed immediately for 95% of the hundreds of thousands of migrating shad. No big run has ever passed that site, leaving three states without their promised bounties. Vermont and New Hampshire remain this river’s shad deserts today.

The Prescription

It’s now 2020. At this late date, corporate re-registrations can’t hide what’s legally required and a half-century overdue on New England’s river. The last opportunity to undo those festering mistakes for the Connecticut now rest in the hands of the National Marine Fisheries Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Massachusetts Division of Fish and Wildlife. They are the people’s gatekeepers, mandated to guard the public trust — agencies with the authority to change to the generations-old crippling conditions here in Massachusetts.

Across 45 years of tracking fish runs passing upstream at successive dams on the Connecticut, shad counts have averaged 315,369 at Holyoke, 17,579 at Turners Falls, and just 9,299 at the Vernon Dam in Vermont. But recently long-term federal and state studies on passage and juvenile survival for American shad have led to new minimum benchmarks for fish passage at each dam to ensure the long-term survival of the river’s runs.

Using those findings, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, National Marine Fisheries Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the four states have formally adopted new Connecticut River fish passage goals. They include annual minimums of 687,000 shad passing Holyoke, 297,000 passing Turners Falls, and 227,000 at Vernon Dam annually. Those federal and state targets are now part of the public record in the current FERC relicensings. Their implementation would also ensure the endangered shortnose sturgeon gets the flows needed to begin its recovery here.

It’s time to return flow to the Connecticut River below Turners Falls. Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer All Rights Reserved.

The time has come for facilities operating and profiting off the life of New England’s river to come into compliance with the laws of the land, including the Supreme Court’s 1872 finding in Holyoke Company v. Lyman, the Anadromous Fish Conservation Act of 1965, the Endangered Species Act of 1973 and a host of others. For the fisheries agencies charged with protecting a river’s bounty, standing up for their implementation is the sole prescription for success in a four-state restoration undertaken when back Lyndon Johnson was president.

By law, by right and by the public trust, the Connecticut River’s time has come.

Karl Meyer has been a member of the Fish & Aquatics Studies Team and an intervener in the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission relicensing process for three Massachusetts facilities on the Connecticut River since 2012. He lives in Greenfield, Massachusetts. Meyer is a member of The Society of Environmental Journalists.

* * FINAL NOTE from the author: if all this history is new and troubling to you it must be considered that: this is the only river in the Northeast with several federal designations that has remained the only major waterway without an independent and effective watchdog–one with a full legal team on staff, and a mandate to investigate, enforce, and go to court. The generations-long mistakes and brutal conditions that have existed here would’ve long ago been challenged in court had there been an effective organization protecting the integrity of this river system. If the Connecticut River is to have a future as a living ecosystem, a new model will have to come into being.

Honoring Peskeomscut

Posted by on 18 May 2020 | Tagged as: American shad, blueback herring, Connecticut River, Connecticut River ecosystem, Deerfield River, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, FERC, FERC licensing process, FirstLight, FirstLight Power, fish passage, Holyoke Dam, Narragansett, Nipmuck, Norwottuck, Peskeomscut, Pocumtuck, Relicensing, Riverside, sea lamprey, shad, The Dead Reach, Turners Falls dam, Turners Falls Massacre, Uncategorized

THIS GREAT AND BROKEN RIVER IV

Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Issue # 4: Honoring Peskeomscut


Peskeomscut, Island?
Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer(Click X 3 to enlarge; back arrow to return to text)

At a glance, this could be a photo of a quiet pond in New England. It is not. This is the mid-May, midstream view of an island in the Connecticut River, just 250 yards below the Turners Falls Dam in Massachusetts. With a quick look you might be wondering: where’s the river—and, what island?? This is a chasm and landscape robbed of its water, life and dignity. On any mid-spring day for ages past, thousands of American shad would’ve been pulsing through the rolling froth on both sides of what is a now-erased and bereft island. Today, shad here are not even offered a decent puddle to flop in.

Glancing quickly, you might not have made note of an island. But a closer look reveals a small, tree festooned bump in the center-right background. That site was identified by FirstLight Power as PesKeomscut Island in their initial 2012 application for a new federal hydro license to operate Turners Fall Dam—which is just out of view to the right of this photo. Unfortunately, Turners Falls Dam has been the place where New England’s Great River has died for well over two centuries now.

As far as any real river here?—there’s a just-visible bridge in the upper right, beneath which the mouth of the Fall River is adding a little flow and a tiny bit of froth to the barely-running current in the background. What should be the strong, rolling pulse of the spring Connecticut here should to be pushing downstream from left to right across the entire foreground of this photo. Instead, there’s just a stilled pond. And, yes, that island has been virtually erased. To be an island, you must have water.

On this May 14, 2020, FirstLight has subtracted that main ingredient. At mid-afternoon the Connecticut has been turned off in its own 200 million year-old chasm, robbed of all but a riverlet of dribbling flow. They do that most months out of the year. This spring day all but a tiny percentage of its life-giving current is diverted into FL’s adjacent power canal. The Connecticut is broken here at a place once called Peskeomscut–broken since the first dam stretched across this ancient chasm from Turners Falls to Gill in 1798. That began the 2-1/2 mile reach just downstream that robbed the river of life and flow. It gave rise to a landlocked “island” without a watery moat.

Further out and to the left in the photo, two more humans engage in a leisurely stroll over exposed sand—mid-river at mid-spring, padding over a dry shoal that should be teeming with river life at this season. But not here; not in northern Massachusetts. The place is a desert.

Instead of a life-giving, roaring spring cataract–encircling an inaccessible island, just a salutary wash of water is spilling from the dam above. Peskeomscut Island has been reduced to an abandoned, rocky spit in a parching, emptied chasm.

Looking closely, lower left of center you can make out an angler at the quiet, current-less shore. He might as well be on a pond—migrating American shad won’t find an upstream current deep or strong enough to follow their ancient migratory path toward the lost waterfalls here this day. While downstream, Holyoke Dam had reported 10,000 shad passing there through May 8, Turners Falls Dam had a whopping 38 passing here…

Peskeomscut is an approximate spelling of an Algonquian term used to denote the place where an ancient waterfall, cataract and island anchored the landscape. That place, which teemed with life throughout its annual seasonal cycles back into the mists of time, is today robbed of its soul–deprived of dignity. What, in 2020, should be a restored, thriving, May Connecticut River–full of shad, herring, lamprey eels and frothing currents, is today a drying, emptied bed. Its “island” is simply a rocky spit, easily accessible across the barren, bedrock ledge.


Midstream Peskeomscut 1-1-2018 (Click X 3 to enlarge)
Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer

There is more than a little irony to this site being referenced today in Massachusetts as Turners Falls or the Great Falls. Any visitor here would more than likely find this curving, ancient chasm hollowed out at nearly any month of the year. There rarely are falls to see here. This is a broken place, a starved place. There is something raw and enduring about the injuries perpetrated here year in and year out. The once abundant life of this place is merely an afterthought here, if considered at all.

From Turners Falls Dam downstream to just above the river’s confluence with the Deerfield River, these 2-1/2 miles of the Connecticut are best described as its “Dead Reach.” There is no river in this stretch, just a parching/choking series of on-off flows that alternately starve and inundate what was once a life-filled artery.

In the spring of 2020, this should not be. It should all be the past history of the Great River. The current 52 year-old Federal Energy Regulatory Commission license to operate Turners Falls Dam expired in 2018. But FERC has allowed repeated extensions of that license, in a so-called “5-year” relicensing process that began in 2012. This stilted, corporate-skewed federal process has seen virtually no forward movement for over a year–and will soon be celebrating its 8th birthday. That stale status quo seems to suit FERC and FirstLight–as well as their shareholders, quite nicely. It’s just another abuse in the ongoing nightmare for the central artery of Western New England’s largest ecosystem.

On May 19, 2004, I witnessed a reconciliation ceremony at a park in Montague adjacent to the Connecticut, just above Turners Falls Dam. Local officials, citizens, and representatives from several of the region’s Native American tribes were present. All were there to honor, and attempt to heal the lingering injuries and moldering legacy of a grim injustice committed here in the pre-dawn dark on the morning of May 19, 1676.


Turners Falls Dam and Riverside Massacre Site
Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer(Click X 3 to enlarge, back arrow to return to text)

Just across the river in the Riverside flats of Gill, 160 colonial troops swept down a hillside, firing muskets and stabbing bayonets into the tents of sleeping elders, women, and children of the Narragansett, Nipmuck and Pocumtuck and other peoples—encamped there in a hungry and desperate attempt to harvest fish and plant sustaining corn in their ongoing attempt to defend and keep the territories of their ancient homelands. For the colonists, it was a grim and successful slaughter of hundreds of defenseless Indians. For the indigenous tribes, though their surprise counter attack quickly sent the blood-bathed attackers into a chaotic, F-Troop rout, the loss of life ultimately proved a spirit and soul crushing disaster.

On this May 19th, 2020, much of the signaled healing and reconciliation of 16 years back seems to remain orphaned on the 344th anniversary of the Turners Falls Massacre. The wounds of that day are yet present. And, the later and ongoing theft of a river’s life-giving current–begun with that 1798 dam, still remains in place. The Connecticut here is–most days, an emptied and soulless place. It is long past time for the life and lives lost at Peskeomscut–and some of what is still missing as well, to see the beginning of a long overdue restoration. The river belongs to the people. Some of that healing must begin with water. Water is where life begins…

Issue # 3: The River Emptied at Spring

Posted by on 13 May 2020 | Tagged as: American shad, Bellows Falls VT, Connecticut River, Connecticut River ecosystem, Connecticut River shortnose sturgeon, Endangered Species Act, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, federally-endangered Connecticut River shortnose sturgeion, FERC, FERC license, FirstLight, Greenfield Recorder, Holyoke Dam, Holyoke Fish Lift, migratory fish, Narragansett, Nipmuck, Northfield Mountain, Norwottuck, Pocumtuck, Rock Dam, Rock Dam Pool, shad, Silvio O. Conte Connecticut River National Fish and Wildlife Refuge, Turner Falls Massacre, Turners Falls, Turners Falls dam, Turners Falls power canal, US Fish & Wildlife Service, US Geological Survey's Conte Fish Lab, USFWS, Vermont, Walpole

THIS GREAT AND BROKEN RIVER III

Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Issue # 3: The River Emptied at Spring

Dismal Mother’s Day flow at Turner’s Falls Dam and Fishway Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer (Click X 3 for closeup, click back arrow to return to text)

It was a grim Mother’s Day weekend for the Connecticut River in Massachusetts. The only current left in the riverbed below Turners Falls Dam amounted to little more than a thin, spreading soup winding a shallow path around successive ridges of drying ledge as it threaded together a downstream path along it’s ancient, impoverished bed. Anyone with a pair of rubber boots could’ve easily walked across the Connecticut just a few hundred feet below that dam without much risk of getting wet to the knees–smack in the middle of fish migration and spawning season in the heart of the Silvio O. Conte Connecticut River National Fish and Wildlife Refuge.

There’s something soulless in starving a river of its flow—particularly in the spring when the shadbush is in bloom, the columbine have sprouted, and the fish are in the river. This year, with the corona virus draining spirits and sapping energy during March and April, the presence of a living river in Western New England’s back yard was something to anticipate come May. The light returned, the trees were in flower, birds were making music, and energy use was in its usual seasonal retreat—demand being down ever since a warmer than normal winter.


Days Earlier Flow over Turners Falls Dam May 5, 2020 Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer (Click X 3, back arrow to return to text)

This should have been a promising early May on New England’s Great River. But no–not here in northern Massachusetts–not this Mother’s Day weekend. For migrating American shad seeking a route upstream here, the river was literally a road to nowhere. As of Monday, May 11th, though some 18,000 shad had passed upstream at the Holyoke Fishway, 36 river miles to the south, not a single shad had been tallied managing to pass beyond the grim maze of a power canal and several ladders to emerge above Turners Falls Dam. By Monday not a single migrant from the ocean had been tallied passing that dam–thus none were present moving upstream to open Vermont, New Hampshire and northern Massachusetts habitats. The public has no access to the fishway this year, and FirstLight has not provided a simple video feed for people to see their fish. At Turners Falls, the power company alone, is left to monitor itself and report on the public’s fish.


Shad Anglers below Holyoke Dam May 7, 2020 Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer

But, most grimly again this May, river conditions on Mother’s Day were altogether devastating for federally-endangered Connecticut River shortnose sturgeon attempting to spawn and nurture young in the currents at their ancient Rock Dam spawning pool–a mile and a half downstream of the dam. Vital river flows at a natural basalt, in-stream formation known as Rock Dam–which had been accommodating for spawning sturgeon just a week before, were shut down to the point where the cobble shoals that shelter eggs and developing young were now visible along a receded shoreline.

Hopeful shad anglers from the adjacent USGS Conte Lab and nearby US Fish & Wildlife Service in Sunderland were present to witness the impacts. This year’s potential progeny–at the sturgeon’s only documented natural spawning site in the ecosystem, were once more left to desiccate–starved of life-giving, oxygenating water as the sun warmed the prematurely exposed, rocky shallows. Though not fishing on this Mother’s Day morning, one of the leaders of the local Nolumbeka Project stopped to inquired of me if the sturgeon had been able to successfully spawn this year. I had to tell him no.

For the second year running FirstLight Power had squeezed the bascule gates closed at Turners Fall Dam, leaving just a curtain of a few hundred cubic feet per second (cfs) of flow entering the starved riverbed below Turners Falls Dam. The Federal Energy Regulatory license for FL’s Turners Falls and Northfield Mountain operations expired two years back on April 30, 2018. . Conditions in a new license would have hopefully increased that dribbling flow at the dam by a factor of 20. Grimly, the starving of this Great River is occurring at the exact site where women, children and elders of the Nipmuck, Pocumtuck, Norwottuck and Narragensett People were set upon and slaughtered in their pre-dawn sleep in the Turners Falls Massacre on May 19, 1676.

But FERC stepped in on FirstLight’s behalf, and has now offered two years of license extensions to this Canadian-owned, Delaware-registered company, allowing these grim impacts to continue. In doing so it has now green-lighted these conditions for three consecutive spawning seasons–allowing crippling industrial practices put in place 52 years back to choke the life out of four-state migratory fish runs, and crushing the spawning prospects for those sturgeon–literally the Connecticut’s only federally endangered migratory fish species. This, in an ecosystem that should have had connected and sustaining flows and fish passage upstream to Bellows Falls VT and Walpole NH long ago.

The flows present in the river on Mother’s Day are flows that force endangered sturgeon to default downstream to attempt spawning in the pulsing industrial flows churning out of the Cabot Station powerhouse a half mile downstream. There, any spawned and developing young-of-the-year will have no defense against the scouring-out hydro surges pulsing canal water back into the riverbed below once fertilized young are dispersed in the flows to shelter in rocky shallows .

Those tamped-down Mother’s Day flows from the dam also create conditions that keep American shad in an endless Groundhog Day cycling at Rock Dam–circling and re-circling in the depleted currents at a pool where depths become too shallow to find a flow offering a negotiable upstream path. Anglers sometimes do quite well at this migratory cull-de-sac where agitated, circling shad snap at darts while wasting hours and energy in this suspended-migration.

But those same tamped down flows diverted at TF Dam also cause just-arriving American shad from Holyoke to be led directly to the false upstream currents exiting the power canal at Cabot Station. Sensing that upstream attraction flow, those unlucky fish get drawn into a ponderous and exhausting fish ladder there. There they are diverted entirely out of the riverbed and into a concrete chute where they must attempt to better an impossible series of steps, twists, and turns that will ultimately dump them into the alien and un-river-like environs of the Turners Falls power canal. Once they enter that industrial habitat, many end their upstream migrations altogether, spending weeks in the labyrinth of that walled corridor without finding a way out and upstream.

Grimly, this year was nearly a carbon copy of the brutal conditions visited below Turners Falls the week of Mother’s Day 2019. Last year at this time researchers tallied the largest-ever catch of spawning-run endangered sturgeon gathered at their Rock Dam nursery pool, corralling 48 fish in a morning survey of a biologist’s net. Days later, at the height of shortnose spawning season, FirstLight abruptly cut off life giving flows to the site. Those same banks and cobbles were exposed, and the spawning run sturgeon were sent packing—forced to abandon the site, with any embryos and young that might have proved viable left withering in the shallows.


FL’s Locked Entrance at Cabot Woods & Rock Dam mid-afternoon May 5, 2020 Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer

You might have expected more from FirstLight this year. This is a Canadian shareholder company seeking a new federal license to operate these facilities on the Connecticut River in Massachusetts after recently re-registering them in Delaware as tax shelters. But, now that FERC continues to allow them to profit off the grim and antiquated tenets of a license written under the Federal Power Commission 52 years ago, they seem in no particular hurry to become relicensed neighbors operating for profit on a four-state US river that is the centerpiece of a National Fish and Wildlife Refuge.

These ongoing grim flow regimes fly in the face of mandates long-ago included in the Endangered Species Act and the Anadramous Fish Conservation Act, here, in the most biologically important and critical habitat in the entire Connecticut River ecosystem. They also feel like a thumbing of the nose at Massachusetts taxpayers—as well as all the deserving citizens in the three states from Montague MA to Walpole NH, who also pay taxes and are certainly entitled to a living river. It is a form of public theft.

As the Connecticut River is left starved, its ancient fish runs foundering, there is no movement to bring to a close the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s “5-year” relicensing process—begun here in 2012 and lingering on, laughably unfinished. The power company continues to pocket profits, while the FERC is led by a stilted and hand-picked majority happy to feed the corporations what they want, to the benefit of foreign shareholders far from New England. Sadly, there is no state or federal environmental agency that appears willing to challenge this endless delay. And, as noted here before—this four-state river lacks a true NGO watchdog with a mission-mandate and staff lawyers protecting it. See The Greenfield Recorder: https://www.recorder.com/New-England-s-great-river-without-a-watchdog-33291778

FISH CAM: Let the People See Their FISH!

Posted by on 05 May 2020 | Tagged as: American shad, blueback herring, Connecticut River, FirstLight, FirstLight Power, FISH CAM, Great River Hydro, Holyoke Dam, Holyoke Fish Lift, migratory fish, Northfield Mountain, sea lamprey, shad, shortnose sturgeon, Turners Falls, Vermont, Vernon Dam Fishway

THIS GREAT AND BROKEN RIVER II

Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Issue # 2, FISH CAM: Let the People See Their FISH!

Covid-19 shouldn’t be an excuse to cancel everything–especially when you owe something to an isolated and deserving public. If you’re a power company profiting from a resource like the Connecticut River, isn’t it just the minimum of responsibility and common courtesy when things are taken away, to offer something in its place? I’m not seeing that on New England’s Great River. But I am certain all will be seeing new electricity bills this month–the companies seeking payment while so many are out of work.

Holyoke Fishway w/Shad Debry sign. Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.Click X 3.(NOTE: then hit the BACK BUTTON)

Yet there will be no spring family trips to the River to see the great fish migration through Holyoke Gas & Electric’s viewing windows at the South Hadley Falls. No moms will be receiving a little public relations carnation for visiting there this Mother’s Day. And scores of anglers will go wanting there too. The company-sponsored annual Shad Derby won’t be held on successive weekends this spring either. The Fishway lot at Holyoke Dam will be gated and locked.


TF Fishway Gate Locked. Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Click X 3.

Upstream at Turners Falls, FirstLight’s little fish-viewing cavern just above the ancient falls will be locked down tight as well. There will be no family or school program visits; no access to the churning river at its most dynamic season. Just further upstream, FirstLight has closed Barton Cove to all camping, kayak rentals, and hiking. Five miles further on they’ve cancelled all riverboat tours, use of the Riverview boat launch, plus all use of the extensive trail system on FirstLight’s sprawling Northfield Mountain recreation property. It’s quite a cancellation laundry list. They want us safe—noting, as others, the state safety guideline for Covid 19.

Turners Falls Dam, May 25, 2019. Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Click X 3.

If you were thinking—maybe a bit further upstream in Vermont you might get to witness the great migration of American shad, sea lamprey and blueback herring at Great River Hydro’s Vernon Dam Fishway, well, you’re again out of luck. The padlock remains on the gates there too. Nobody will be entering that bunker where bubble-filled windows sometimes offer a steady stream of passing shad, and close-up looks at the pulsing gills of lamprey—suctioning mouths glued to the glass, resting a minute before continuing upstream. Only the nesting phoebes in the dark corner of that cavern will have free access in that chained-off place.

Vernon Dam March 19, 2020. Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Click X 3.

Phoebe’s nest at Vernon Fishway. Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Click X 3.

But don’t these for-profit and shareholder-owned companies have a responsibility to the local citizenry as they bill them to benefit stockholders who likely have no physical and intimate connection to the far-off Connecticut River they profit from? The truth is–the activities they won’t be providing for the public this year because of the Covid virus are actually required by law, as part of their federal and state operating licenses.

Conversely, these companies will not be carrying the payroll obligations for all their seasonal employees. There won’t be fishway guides and Shad Derby officials staffing Holyoke; nor will there be seasonal employees hired and staffing the Turners Falls Fishway, Barton Cove Campground, their kayak rentals—nor staffing and running the riverboat, the Visitors Center, nor staff maintaining those mileS of extensive trails and Riverview Picnic area, nor the Munn’s Ferry camp sites. All closed. That’s a considerable Covid-19 savings, and great loss to a cooped-up public…

TF Fishway, Simple Snapshot–its that easy! Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Click X 3.

Can’t something be done to give the public back their river access in this Covid-skewed spring? Is the public owed nothing more than an electric bill?

Well here’s a suggestion—and it’s not even thinking outside the corporate box. It’s time to offer the public FISH CAM, at each of these privatized falls and fish passage sites on the Connecticut. They fish cams in Virginia, Minnesota and elsewhere—heck, we even have a turn-key-ready version of it that could be hooked up in a minute at the Turners Falls Fishway. There, for decades, the company got great public relations for broadcasting Eagle Cam, a simple camera feed trained on the nest of the Barton Cove eagles and offered to an eager and enthusiastic public audience near and far.

It could be again reinstituted in a heartbeat at Turners Falls. And nobody would have to climb up into the nest to secure a camera—just put a video cam in those fish viewing windows and let the public have the delightful and comforting views of the Connecticut’s great spring migrations, right from the confinement of their homes. Just set it, and forget it. This would be great therapy for all those hungry for diversion and a river connection—and, wonderful for kids and student’s alike. It’s at least something they can do–and they have all the wires and electricity anyone could ever want. Local CCTV stations would surely help get it going at all these river sites, and viewers would likely tune in with grateful enthusiasm.

The Connecticut’s great migratory fish migration is just picking up steam now. Typically the runs begin moving toward peak in the several weeks following Mother’s Day, and continue right through June. Let’s give the public–the moms, dads, and kids something back during this greatly deprived spring. Hey Holyoke Gas & Electric; hey FirstLight—hey, Great River Hydro, please—it’s time to honor those obligations to the public on the public’s river. No excuses while shareholders profit. This is the simplest and quickest way to give just one thing back. With today’s technology you wouldn’t imagine this couldn’t be done by just aiming a laptop at the fish-viewing windows at Holyoke and Vernon, where an Eagle Cam never existed. It’s of out-of-the-box technology, to fulfill just one of the many unoffered public obligations this spring. Zoom in on the fish!

Please, no more telling the folks what won’t be offered or done in this bright season—now’s the time—and the place–and the season, for Fish Cam. If Minnesota and Virginia figured this out years ago, we should have it here on the Connecticut. It should be the standard. It’s a small gesture at a tiny cost–giving back a bit of comfort to those isolated at home or unable to get to the river. It’s a win-win, for all involved. Let the people tune in; let the public see their fish!

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