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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.

CONSENSUS BUILDS AGAINST RELICENSING NORTHFIELD MTN: YOU CAN STILL BE HEARD!!!

Posted by on 06 Dec 2021 | Tagged as: Andrew Tittler, Connecticut River, Connecticut River ecosystem, Connecticut River migratory fisheries restoration, E-Comments, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, federal trust fish, FERC, FERC Secretary Kimberly D. Bose, FirstLight Power, Greenfield Recorder, Julie Crocker, MA Division of Fish and Wildlife, Massachusetts DEP, Massachusetts Division of Fish & Wildlife, Mr. Jesse Leddick, Mr. Mark S. Tisa, National Marine Fisheries Service, Northfield Mountain, Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station, P-2485, PSP Investments, public trust, Silvio O. Conte Connecticut River National Fish and Wildlife Refuge, The Daily Hampshire Gazette, US Fish & Wildlife Service, Wendi Weber


GREENFIELD MA. November 30, 5:58 am: River protector Dave Dersham of Northampton MA sets out on a 20 mile hike from Greenfield to deliver a “No License to Kill” message to the US Fish & Wildlife Service at their Hadley HQ. Photo Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer

YOU CAN STILL BE HEARD!!!!!

*BE PART OF THE “SAVE OUR RIVER” HOLIDAY CAMPAIGN: READ BELOW!*

Public demonstrations, public comments to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and opinion pieces in the media all point to a gelling opposition to any FERC relicensing of FirstLight’s Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station. The coalescing opinions cite Northfield’s lethal impact on fish, it’s massive river-reversing ecosystem destruction–plus the profit motives of its Canadian venture capital owners. (* *See the 3 new public comment letters posted by FERC today, 12/06/2021, at the end of this message.)

Last Thursday, December 2, FirstLight gathered behind closed doors with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, National Marine Fisheries, MA Division of Fish and Wildlife, MA Department of Environmental Protection and American Whitewater in what the Canadian-owned company termed “final” settlement negotiations. There was no daylight for the public to bear witness, and no way to know how far they reached toward a final signing agreement on relicensing this disaster or ending heart-stopping ecosystem flow reversals and inhalation of 100s of millions of fish.


RECEPTION at USFWS HQ, Hadley MA, November 30, 4 pm. Photo Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer

What’s certain is the big horse-trading was on the table–with our public trust agencies holding our cards in the form of standing up for long-established environmental law and the ecosystem defense that future generations are counting on. Our River, our Refuge, OUR FISH!

Well it ain’t over till it’s over folks! Certainly there are issues not yet fully vetted, emails being exchanged, and last minute changes in the works from the agencies and FirstLight/PSP Investments’ big lawyers.

IN SHORT, nothing has been signed yet!

There remains time to get your comments in to the media, your public trust federal/state agency representatives (emails below), to FERC (address below), and cc’ed to your representatives—all of which are impactful.

HERE IS WHY: in FirstLight’s own words & schedule, filed with FERC November 12, 2021.

“FirstLight MA Hydro LLC submits request for FERC to delay issuance of Ready for Environmental Assessment Notice under P-1889, et al.”

AND, word-for-word, FirstLight’s Timeline to FERC:

“December 2021/January 2022 – parties schedule meeting or meetings of combined groups (fish/flows and recreation/cultural) to discuss overlapping issues. Parties provide status update to the Commission no later than December 31, 2021.

January 2022 – parties work toward achieving a conceptual agreement that can be filed with the Commission on or about January 31, 2022.”


At US Fish & Wildlife HQ, Hadley MA. Photo Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer

WHICH is to note FirstLight’s sending the settlement outline “to the Commission no later than DECEMBER 31, 2021.”

THUS, if you make your public statement NOW–ahead of when everyone heads home for the holiday break, you can impact this secret, looming train wreck and help make a difference for future generations. Northfield Mountain has been a half century long disaster. You have the information. Short, concise comments—-to the media, cc’ed to your public trust agency officials, and sent as comments to FERC is what matters NOW. There are 3 new public comments shared below.

Directly below are the federal and state department heads and the public trust officials with long-term seats at the negotiating table:

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.

SEND them your Letter; forward it to the MEDIA for the public record—and…

THEN, file it with FERC for the OFFICIAL LICENSE RECORD.
Here’s the final step: TO FERC:

Go to www.ferc.gov . Go to Documents and Filings, or simply find the “file E-Comment” link if you see it. Once there, make sure you have this official number for Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station, and USE IT. “P-2485.” In E-Comment you are filing comments under Hydro, in the Washington DC office, c/o FERC Secretary Kimberly D. Boles–and that FERC Project number, again is P-2485. Write in your comments and then hit send. DONE!

THIS ONE IS NEW TODAY! Followed by the 3 filed over the weekend:

Document Accession #: 20211207-5027 Filed Date: 12/07/2021

Mike Cournyn, Sudbury, MA.
Please reject the application for this license. It is hard to express how wrong this system is on so many levels. It is even harder to try and justify usefulness. More power is USED than is CREATED. The death and disruption of the ecosystem for a few dollars profit. I am amazed it was even allowed inthe first place. Please do the right thing.

Document Accession #: 20211206-5059 Filed Date: 12/06/2021

Malcolm G Everett, NORTHAMPTON, MA.
I am writing to express my deep concern about the impact of the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Facility on the ecosystem of the Connecticut River. I believe the damage this system causes to species native to the river justifies the non-renewal of its license to operate. I understand it is viewed as a way to meet peak electricity demand, but I think there are better
ways being developed to solve this problem without causing damage to the life forms in the river. The owner of this facility has no right to cause such damage to the delicate systems of life that have evolved long before the facility existed. Thank you for considering my concern.

Document Accession #: 20211206-5009 Filed Date: 12/06/2021

C Grecsek, SUNDERLAND, MA.
I am writing to express my opposition to the re-licensing of the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage facility. The system costs in energy, and especially in ecological damage, are too high.

The Connecticut River flows backward when the pumps are engaged, an unnatural and harmful process. In addition, the turbines kill countless fish and other river dwellers. The generation of electricity should not need to use so much energy to operate nor should it result in such senseless destruction of an ecosystem.

We have made great strides in the improvement of the Connecticut River from when it was essentially an open sewer, but there is more work to do to repair the harm we have caused, including the cessation of this damaging system.

Thank you

Document Accession #: 20211206-5008 Filed Date: 12/06/2021

robert arbib, cummington, MA.
Please reject the application of Firstlight to operate Northfield Mt.for another 50 years.This pumping station causes terrible disruption of the natural flow of the Connecticut River.I know as I canoe on this section of the river. Natural flows necessary for the life cycles of various vertebrates and invertebrates are disrupted, fish and other animals are shredded going up
through the pumps,the flow of the river is reversed during pumping and shallow areas are washed out and eroded as water is released.Firstlight will say they are addressing these concerns but they will promise anything to get a renewal. Please don’t believe their B.S,

Their model is to use massive amounts of power to pump water up. only to profit through ‘generation’ when rates are higher, It is not worth the damage to the river to generate not really new power but only profits for this Canadian company.

Photo Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer

REIMAGINING A RIVER: The Year without Northfield Mountain

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

THIS GREAT AND BROKEN RIVER VII

Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

Who is protecting New England’s Great River??

Posted by on 15 Jul 2019 | Tagged as: Connecticut River migratory fisheries restoration, Conte National Fish & Wildlife Refuge, ecosystem, Endangered Species Act, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, federal trust fish, federally-endangered Connecticut River shortnose sturgeion, FERC, FirstLight Power, Fish and Aquatics Study Team, limited liability corporation, LLC, Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station, Rock Dam, Rock Dam Pool, shortnose sturgeon, Society of Environmental Journalists, State of Delaware, The Daily Hampshire Gazette, The Greenfield Recorder, Treasury Board of Canada, Turners Falls dam, US Fish & Wildlife Service, US Geological Survey, US Geological Survey's Conte Fish Lab, USFWS

The following piece appeared in The Greenfield Recorder on June 27, 2019, and in the Daily Hampshire Gazette on July 17, 2019. The original title ran as “Sturgeon Revival on the Connecticut.” www.recorder.com, www.gazettenet.com .
Ruined Rock Dam spawning and nursery site on May 17, 2019. At upper left is one of the extremely sensitive island habitats that rafters repeatedly trammeled. NOTE: Click, then click twice more to enlarge. Photo Copyright © 2019 by Karl Meyer, All Rights Reserved.

Story, Copyright © 2019 by Karl Meyer. All Rights Reserved.

Something remarkable occurred below Turners Falls this May: four dozen federally-endangered Connecticut River shortnose sturgeon were discovered at their embattled spawning and nursery site–the largest documented aggregation since long-term research began there in 1992.

In the afternoon of May 8, 2019 when US Geological Services biologist Micah Kieffer walked down to the river near the Silvio O. Conte Anadromous Fish Research Center, he got a surprise “burp” on the receiver he carried. That meant just one thing: a radio-tagged sturgeon was nearby. Since early spring consistent high flows had coursed down the riverbed—a rarity in the oft-emptied, 3-mile reach below the Turners Falls Dam controlled by FirstLight Power. Kieffer hustled back to the USGS Lab, gathering armloads of equipment and securing a boat. By nightfall he’d set out nets, hoping to find a few sturgeon where they’ve likely spawned for thousands of years–a unique, cobble-bottomed pool downstream of the dam.

The big shock came first thing next morning. Weighing down the nets were 48 squirming, 2-3 foot long, endangered sturgeon–one female “running eggs”; the males all running sperm. Kieffer worked quickly to catalogue each fish; returning all to the current. Across a quarter century of intensive federal research started under Amherst’s Dr. Boyd Kynard and continuing under Kieffer, this was a critical discovery near a place called Rock Dam—which hosts a single, tiny rapid. That site is critical to the shortnose’ recovery—it’s a unique biological refuge, and their only documented natural spawning site in the ecosystem.

Life-giving spring flows have been rare below Turners Falls Dam for nearly a half century. Most years currents get violently see-sawed up and down and diverted in and out of the riverbed at that dam via computers operated from inside the 1972 Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station, seven miles upstream. Those disruptions help service the massive water and energy appetite of Northfield’s pumped storage electricity regeneration and resale regime. Most years spawning success for this 200 million year-old sturgeon species fails at Rock Dam. That flow chaos has also long-handicapped the stalled, four-state federal Connecticut River Cooperative Fisheries Restoration for shad and herring here.

But this year, nourishing high flow continued through that critical biological reach right into the height of shortnose spawning season—which extends to late May. Operating with minimal staff, Kieffer again managed to anchor “day-set” nets in the river on May 15th and 16th. He got 11sturgeon on each of those days. But when nets were set again on May 17th he suddenly found himself skunked.
Exposed, dewatered shoals in shortnose sturgeon spawning and nursery habitat below Rock Dam.
Photo Copyright © 2019 by Karl Meyer. All Rights Reserved. Click x3 to ENLARGE>

At 7:30 on the morning of May 17th, just a single gate spilled a thin stream of water into the channel below Turners Falls Dam. Though river flows had been slowly subsiding, when FirstLight pinched those gates shut they were pulling the plug on spawning flows. According to Dr. Boyd Kynard in his 2012 book, Life History and Behavior of Connecticut River Shortnose and Other Sturgeons, “Flow reductions that occurred while fish were spawning at RockD caused SNS to leave the area, and after females left, they did not later return to RockD spawning habitat.” What’s worse, that abrupt tamp-down dewatered the cobble bottom and shoals below Rock Dam where spawned eggs and embryos shelter and develop through June. It’s deadly.

Later that morning two gates were opened, re-ramping currents in the river. Over the ensuing days US Fish & Wildlife Service representatives noted gates alternately waffling flows up and down in sturgeon spawning time—from two open, down to one; later up to three. Perhaps encouraged by those settings, on May 29th a rafting company was seen repeatedly sending loaded, lumbering rafts over Rock Dam and walking them up onto sensitive island habitats.

FirstLight and those commercial rafters have long been apprised and legally aware of the presence of endangered sturgeon—federal studies are part of the relicensing record here. Liability is spelled out under the Endangered Species Act. A single act of interference with a federally endangered sturgeon carries a penalty of $49,000 and possible jail time. Those dam settings resulted in grim biological conditions at a time FirstLight should have been exercising utmost care: this was in the midst of their providing experimental flows from the dam to fulfill license requirements for migrating shad while meeting sturgeon spawning needs.

This December, FirstLight reregistered their Northfield and Turners Falls facilities in a series of tax-sheltered, limited liability corporations in the State of Delaware. As a venture capital firm, parent-owned by the Treasury Board of Canada, they’re seeking a new federal license to operate on this U.S. River in our Commonwealth for decades to come. This critical reach should not become a cash-cow playground for corporate shareholders or joyriding rafters. It’s time to celebrate the shortnose sturgeon, and time to let a river heal.

Karl Meyer has been a stakeholder and member of the Fish and Aquatics Study Team in the current FERC relicensing process for the Northfield Mountain and Turners Falls projects since 2012. He is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists.