Turners Falls

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A Connecticut River Day of Mourning: STANDOUT this Sat. Apr. 2

Posted by on 30 Mar 2022 | Tagged as: 1872, Connecticut River, Connecticut River blog, Connecticut River Conservancy, Connecticut River ecosystem, Connecticut River Watershed Council, Conte National Fish & Wildlife Refuge, Death-Sewer, Eversource, FERC, FirstLight Power, Greenfield Recorder, Jesse Leddick, Julie Crocker, Landmark Supreme Court Decision 1872, MA Division of Fish and Wildlife, MA Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program, Mark Tisa, Martin Suuberg, Massachusetts Division of Fish & Wildlife, Mr. Jesse Leddick, Mr. Mark S. Tisa, New Hampshire, NMFS, no license to kill, Northeast Utilities, Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station, NU/WMECO, PSP Investments, Public Sector Pension Investments, Silvio O. Conte Connecticut River National Fish and Wildlife Refuge, Source to Sea Cleanup, State of Delaware, Turners Falls, Turners Falls dam, USFWS, Vermont, Vernon Dam Fishway

A CONNECTICUT RIVER DAY OF MOURNING:

NO RIVER SHOULD EVER DIE IN THE DARK!

Standout on: Saturday April 2, 2022, 11 a.m. – 1 p.m.

WHERE:Turners Falls, on the TF Gill/Montague Bridge just off Rt. 2 East above the Connecticut River in Massachusetts.

A heartbreaking, river-betraying, FirstLight-filed Agreement in Principle has been signed by the US Fish & Wildlife Service, MA Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, National Marine Fisheries, and MA Natural Heritage, and sent to FERC.

It’s a CAPITULATION, a soulless document WITHOUT PRINCIPLE.
* READ IT at the END OF THIS POST.*

Come, WEAR BLACK, stand up for the SOUL of OUR RIVER:
Saturday, April 2, 2022, 11 am – 1 pm.

Please, everyone who has ever fought for the truth about this river, the life of this river—all of you who have marched, stood out, written and shouted publicly “NO LICENSE TO KILL” for our ancient Connecticut and its living waters, come to the Gill/Montague Bridge above the River on April 2nd.

https://vtdigger.org/2022/03/30/karl-meyer-a-connecticut-river-day-of-mourning-will-be-held-april-2/

We will stand in honor of the soul of this Valley–above FirstLight’s TF dam, controlled from inside Northfield Mountain, 5 miles away. We’ll be across from US Fish & Wildlife Service-funded and MA Division of Conservation and Recreation-run, Great Falls Discovery Center. Each one of these entities is culpable for allowing a four-state ecosystem to be turned into our river’s 23-mile MORTUARY by Northfield’s brutality in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Come, stand together and bear witness. NO RIVER SHOULD DIE IN THE DARK!

Please WEAR BLACK, and perhaps bring signs that name the names of those responsible. If you have an old shoe box or something small that can stand-in as symbolic coffin for the 20 miles of dead river here, cover it in black and place a single-page cut-out of a DEAD FISH inside–to illustrate the murderous continuation of Northfield’s license. Symbolically, we’ll feed a few into a shredder as witness to this failed ecosystem.

Northfield Mountain, Northfield MA, graveyard where Our Connecticut River Ecosystem Dies… Photo Copyright © 2022 by Karl Meyer

WHY?: Because the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station, the most murderous, wasteful, river-reversing parasite ever licensed to kill on New England’s Great River was betrayed by the US Fish & Wildlife Service, Massachusetts Division of Fisheries & Wildlife, MA Natural Heritage & Endangered Species, and the National Marine Fisheries Service on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, 2022. Behind closed doors they signed a heartbreakingly-grim Agreement in Principle (AIP) toward granting a new FERC license that will re-enshrine and continue the most brutal, murderous, river-reversing flows and ecosystem-dismemberment—occurring unabated here in Massachusetts since Northfield came on line in 1972.

This document, *LINKED AND INCLUDED AT THE END OF THIS POST*, is literally an agreement WITHOUT PRINCIPLE, as they are our guardians of the Public Trust—encumbered to protect our river, its fish and the coming generations who must depend on a living river ecosystem. In a cheap bit of grandstanding, the Connecticut River Watershed Council(CRC), in business since 1952—who should have stopped this killer from being built 50 years ago, made a show of walking away without signing this AIP. After signing another one..

Fifty years late they appear to have found the courage to mildly label Northfield as a killer–after staying mum and taking the power company’s cash for decades. Here is Director Andy Fisk’s new-found outrage about this River’s conveyor belt of death, a half century after the fact: “…Northfield Mountain has been operating for many years without any protection against fish being killed by the turbines.” Wow Andy, nice catch… It’s killed virtually EVERYTHING it’s sucked in–during all the 50 years the Connecticut River Watershed Council/Conservancy has been in business…


The deadly, suctioning, parasitic intake of FirstLight/PSP Investment’s Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Project–the most efficient electric predator ever sanctioned to operate in this 4 state ecosystem. Photo Copyright © 2022 by Karl Meyer

In their watchdog claims of 70 years, they are perhaps the most complicit. They never did a protector’s job; never took the corporations or state and federal agencies to court for violations of some of the most basic environmental laws and river and fish protections dating back to 1872. This new “in it but not of it” posture should be wholly condemned. It’s a CRC version of alternative facts. They are a failed NGO, one that has let 50 years of the unconscionable annual slaughter of literally 100s of millions of fish eggs, juvenile and adult fish and developing larvae of some 24 different species from 3 states be suctioned to their deaths by Northfield, built by CRC’s great benefactor and BFF, NU/Eversource, in 1972. No staff lawyers, no bark, no TEETH!

In 2022, CRC finally makes a bland public statement recognizing that at Northfield there are “fish being killed by the turbines.” That half century of slaughter is on their watch.

Getting back to the public trust, the new Agreement WITHOUT Principle was signed under the directorship of US Fish & Wildlife Service Region 5 head Wendi Weber; Mark Tisa sanctioned it as MA Division of Fish & Wildlife Director, Jesse Leddick inked-in directly as leader of the MA Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program, and Julie Crocker, NOAA/National Marine Fisheries Service ESA Fish, Ecosystems and Energy Branch Chief also agreed to let that promissory note of their legal intent to a new Northfield license be signed.

And who are they selling our ecosystem out to? Why it’s come-lately venture capital’s FirstLight Power, a subsidiary of Canada’s Public Sector Pension Investments. PSP/FirstLight arrived as big-budget bargain investment shoppers, buying up the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station and Turners Falls Hydro Projects at basement rates in 2016. Then, in a marvelous vulture-capital-esque move, they quickly divided their MA assets in 2018, and reregistered them into Delaware tax shelters. Now–with the cowardly 50 years of no-show protection from federal and state agencies here, FirstLight will have the killer keys to 20-plus miles of the Connecticut—impacting three New England states, for decades.

As their constituents, they have failed US. At a time when the Earth is foundering, they’ve agreed to allow a river system to be strangled, reversed and culled of virtually all its aquatic life daily at Northfield. Meanwhile PSP/FirstLight will likely have execs walking off with hefty million dollar bonuses and golden parachutes, as our public trust agents stay in the shadows as abject failures.

After 50 years, this murderous slaughter is being renewed AGAIN, on their watch!

If these agencies were corporations, obligated to produce RESULTS for the benefit of all of us as public trust constituents—there would be massive outcries for resignations from the likes of Ms. Weber, Mr. Tisa, Mr. Leddick, and Ms. Crocker. Instead, they’ll likely have the option to retire years before their abject failure on behalf of the Connecticut River in three states becomes fully visible. Perhaps a few will do the right thing now, plus Mr. Fisk.

* * LASTLY: HERE is that Agreement in Principle–the document signalling the ABANDONMENT of a LIVING CONNECTICUT RIVER ECOSYSTEM
CLICK ON THIS LINK:

* * * RiverSALE-20220318-5004-1 * * *

The Connecticut River still “America’s best landscaped sewer” in Massachusetts

Posted by on 12 Oct 2021 | Tagged as: America's best landscaped sewer, Connecticut River, Connecticut River clean up, Connecticut River ecosystem, Connecticut River Refuge, Connecticut River Watershed Council, Conte National Fish & Wildlife Refuge, Death-Sewer, Delaware LLC, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, FirstLight, FirstLight Power, ISO-NEW ENGLAND, MA Department of Energy and Environmental Affairs, net-loss power, Northfield Mountain, Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station, PSP Investments, source to sea, Turners Falls, US Fish & Wildlife Service, USFWS

The Connecticut River still “America’s best landscaped sewer” in Massachusetts Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer

Citizens standing against relicensing the river-killing Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station in Massachusetts on October 9, 2021. Photo Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer

Something is deeply wrong on the Connecticut River in Massachusetts. That something is secrecy, obfuscation, and public agencies pointedly ignoring the forest for the trees. For 49 years the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station has been the number # 1 ecosystem disruptor and fish predator in the 4-state river system comprising today’s S.O. Conte Connecticut River US Fish and Wildlife Refuge.

So grim is this machine’s daily impact that it literally obliterates 100s of millions of fish and aquatic animals annually–consuming the river’s aquatic life via giant turbines that actually pull the river backward for miles and flush all that river life uphill into Northfield’s 4 billion gallon Death-Sewer each day. It’s an energy-squandering electricity resale scheme that is today netting Canadian venture capital firm PSP Investment wads of tax-sheltered cash via limited liability registration in the State of Delaware.

Thus, despite what’s been grandly touted in massive yearly hype for EXACTLY 25 INDIVIDUAL SATURDAYS since 1996, proclaiming a “cleaned-up river”–the Connecticut remains the grim, stilled, reversed and deadly, daily flush-sink it has been in Massachusetts for ALL of the NEARLY 18,000 DAYS of it’s operation since 1972.

Photo Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer

The grand irony of this massive ecosystem crime is that MA Department of Energy and Environmental Affairs and Holyoke-based ISO-New England whole-heartedly support the continued use of this FirstLight-branded, net-power loss, ecosystem killer in a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission relicensing scheme that will last for decades. Meanwhile the Bay State has been home to the Connecticut River Watershed Council since 1952–as well as its quarter century of cleanup hype, while the US Fish & Wildlife’s Northeast Regional Headquarters (just 25 miles from Northfield in Hadley), has done nothing to shut the giant sucking mouth of Northfield Mountain’s death trap across their River’s quarter century as a US FISH & Wildlife Refuge

So in case you were wondering why these out-standing people are situated above the deadened Connecticut River and look content and happy to be doing something about it–these are the folks making a stand for a living ecosystem for the generations to follow. They are the people who never swallowed the Kool-Aid.

Turners Falls Stand-out Returns Against River Extinction

Posted by on 08 Oct 2021 | Tagged as: Connecticut River, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, FirstLight, FirstLight Power, fish kill, MA Division of Fish and Wildlife, Massachusetts DEP, National Marine Fisheries Service, NMFS, Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station, P-2485, Silvio O. Conte Connecticut River National Fish and Wildlife Refuge, Turners Falls, US Fish & Wildlife Service, USFWS

Turners Falls Stand-out Against River Extinction, Saturday, Oct.9, 11- noon Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer

Photo Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer

As secret relicensing talks between Canadian-owned, Delaware-registered FirstLight and federal and state environmental agencies are taking place, citizens are again returning to the Turners Falls Bridge above the Connecticut to demand an end to the ecosystem slaughter occurring daily at the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Project.
Photo Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer

On September 18 over 50 people took to the bridge demanding a halt to the annual FirstLight slaughter of 100s of millions of fish and aquatic animals.
Photo Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

www.karlmeyerwriting.com/blog

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

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

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

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

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

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

ENERGY executives in the private/quasi-public sphere:

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

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

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

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

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

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

FEDERAL PUBLIC officials:

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

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

E-mail: Sean.mcdermott@noaa.gov

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

E-mail: Julie.crocker@noaa.gov

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

E-mail: timmermann.timothy@epa.gov

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

E-mail: wendi_weber@usfws.gov

MASSACHUSETTS state officials:

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

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

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

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

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

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

E-mail: Jesse.Leddick@mass.gov

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

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

Connecticut River blog: portage parade a quagmire of mixed motives

Posted by on 15 Jul 2021 | Tagged as: Andrew Fisk, Bellows Falls VT, Connecticut River Atlantic Salmon Commission, Connecticut River Conservancy, Connecticut River ecosystem, Connecticut River Watershed Council, Conte National Fish & Wildlife Refuge, CRASC, CRC, Dead Reach, Deerfield River, Eversource, FirstLight, FirstLight Power, Landmark Supreme Court Decision 1872, New Hampshire, Northeast Utilities, Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Project, NU/WMECO, portage parade, PSP Investments, public trust, Rock Dam, Silvio O. Conte Connecticut River National Fish and Wildlife Refuge, State of Delaware, Turners Falls, United State Supreme Court, Vermont

Connecticut River blog: portage parade a quagmire of mixed motives.

Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer


It was a little four-boat affair at Turners Falls on July 10, 2021. Photo Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer

On Saturday, July 10, 2021, Dr. Andy Fisk, Chair of the Connecticut River Atlantic Salmon Commission (CRASC), stood alongside a lawyer on the banks of the Connecticut River in the Village of Turners Falls in Montague MA. That lawyer was not an employee of the Connecticut River Conservancy, which Fisk also directs (that 69 year old organization has never had a staff lawyer), and this was not a gathering about salmon (the last natural run of salmon occurred on the Connecticut in 1809), or any of the endangered or federal trust fish in this tiny, embattled ecosystem reach they were here to highlight. The Connecticut River Watershed Council (today d.b.a. The Connecticut River Conservancy) had brought along Bob Nasdor of American Whitewater. That recreation organization’s crash-helmet-attired attorney and legal advocate was here as part of a CRC press conference and their touted public “portage parade.”

This, just upstream of the Turners Falls Dam, was an event aimed at getting scheduled flow releases from Canada-own FirstLight, and more water, plus an easy access path past the dam for joy-riding paddlers and rafters seeking a chance to dive into the most impoverished, endangered, historic and biologically sensitive 2-1/2 miles in the entire Connecticut River ecosystem.

As parades go, it hardly made a splash. Ultimately around two dozen people assembled, though fully half were CRC staff, family members, and CRC’s handful of invited speakers. The other speakers included Walter Ramsey, planner and conservation agent for the Town of Montague, as well as representatives of the Appalachian Mountain Club, American Whitewater and All Out Adventures. Three CRC staff were recording the event for further promotion. In reality about a dozen members of the public showed up to the “parade”, plus two journalists.


Revving up the “crowd” at Turners. Photo Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer

Funny thing–to prioritize commerce and recreation at a site that has been a half century without healing water, one that represents the epitome of historically fragile and endangered habitat. Strange bedfellows, these. Montague’s conservation agent was one more case in point. He noted that the town gets 20% of its tax revenue from Canada-owned, Delaware-registered FirstLight Power, so he wouldn’t want to see more water being returned to the impoverished Connecticut because that would mean less water diverted down the Turners Falls power canal–and less returned tax cash from their Delaware tax-sheltered, FirstLight LLC corporate absentee landlords/neighbors.

On the other hand, Ramsey noted, he is desirous of the economic bump a tourist town gets by drawing-in traffic for water sports. Those big, partying, river-running crowds so often filling the channels and pull-offs on the Deerfield mean big tourist dollars. What could be better?

In that vein though, there was no mixed message or hesitation at all on the part of the paddle-packing Bob Nasdor. He told those assembled that he sees access to this short river stretch that features one single, tiny rapid (incidentally it’s at precisely the shortnose sturgeon’s fragile and crumbling habitat and nursery) as a “tremendous opportunity”–naming the big commercial rafting outfits over on the Deerfield as well as people arriving for “tubing” as parties that have an eager interest in accessing the river here. This despite expert commentary from shortnose sturgeon biologist Dr. Boyd Kynard already in the FERC record stating that watercraft pose a danger to spawning and developing sturgeon here at their Rock Dam habitat.

As a journalist I thought this publicized press event would be a real opportunity to ask about why CRC had taken no action concerning the clearly dissolving Connecticut riverbanks just downstream in the critical and sole documented natural spawning site of the shortnose sturgeon. Its fragile nursery environs are at a tiny place in the river called the Rock Dam. Those failing Connecticut River banks are owned by FirstLight Power, and adjacent to their power canal.

So it seemed a good question to get an answer to with the public present: was it because CRC has no lawyer?–or because they accept money from the MA Department of Environmental Protection?—that they’ve wholly avoided the site and taken no action, never sought an injunction or tested water or intervened as members of the Connecticut River Streambank Erosion Committee?


Here are the dissolving, slumping–sink-hole deepening Connecticut River banks at the Rock Dam site on the day of the “portage parade,” July 10, 2021. Photo Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer

Ironically, this line of questioning was in nearly the exact same vein as the questions I’d put to Andy Fisk a half decade ago. That was when they decided to hold a discussion in Brattleboro, Vermont about river recreation access–including the all-but-asphyxiated Dead Reach of this Rock Dam river section, where shortnose sturgeon have been annually crippled in successful spawning in their ancient, critical habitat and fragile nursery site for a half century. My questions were not welcome back then either.

This day Director Fisk simply claimed that CRC was taking action. He clearly did not wish to go into any particulars answering in front of the handful of public paraders. He seemed quite rushed, all of a sudden. When I pressed him on several areas of exactly where that action was, and a long timeline where no action whatsoever has been taken, he ended my queries and put the mike down. Unbeknownst to me, a live-feed was being streamed by CRC and it was abruptly shut down when I began my questioning. I heard about this later.

Once the crowd moved away he walked up to reengage–but my questions remained the same, and his responses revealed no on-the-ground action at this critical site. Actually, CRC has filmed and promoted themselves everywhere in this little 2-1/2 mile reach BUT at the dissolving riverbanks and dewatered critical sturgeon habitat on this river. There are videos of a sea lamprey cookout and a swimming hole celebration nearby—plus a big celebration of baby lamprey rescues in the power canal. Now there’s some low hanging fruit protecting a fish that will likely survive Armageddon. But never have they ever brought a parade of people down to that fragile Rock Dam site and filmed them with a backdrop of dissolving Connecticut River banks and baking cobbles where young-of-the-year endangered shortnose sturgeon should be developing.

It’s not hard to find CRC OPINIONS delivered to federal and state entities on a whole host of river issues. They send in all sorts of formal comments. But please, don’t call them a watchdog. Watchdogs inspire fear in companies and public agencies when they break laws or fail to enforce them. They take action. They have hungry, day-to-day staff lawyers–and their missions state clearly: we investigate, we enforce; we go to court–we sue corporations.

CRC gets lots of grant funding from the very agencies they should be forcing to do their jobs. So, don’t look for action there. And, of course, they have an endless legacy going back to their beginnings as close friends and recipients of monies from WMECO/Northeast Utilities, (d.b.a. Eversource) who built the crippling facilities that today dominate this miserable stretch of river. Join the annually major-sponsored Eversource-to-sea clean-up…!

Eversource remains massively—commercially, wired into today’s FirstLight river-crippling facilities at both Northfield and Turners Falls, both parent-owned by PSP Investments of Canada. These facilities trample the key ecosystem functions of New England’s Great River in the heart of the Silvio O. Conte Connecticut River National Fish & Wildlife Refuge all the way from Greenfield and Turners Falls MA to Bellows Falls VT and Walpole NH. Both facilities remain in violation of the landmark environmental 1872 decision of the US Supreme Court—based just downstream on this river in Holyoke Company v. Lyman. It ruled that migratory fish must be provided safe upstream and downstream passage on this and all US rivers. Here, that means all the way up to central Vermont and New Hampshire–and back.

Canadian venture capital outfit PSP/FirstLight Power is playing for keeps. They arrived here to run the giant river and energy-sucking, net-power-loss operations at Northfield Mountain and the smaller Turners Falls ops for long-term cash a full 144 years after the Supreme Court made those critical protections the law of this land . But, judging by priorities here, it seems those foreign venture capitalists have come to the right US river system…

This was an extremely small parade.

Living rivers come first.

Be careful what you wish for…

EMPTIED RIVER NOTES: May 19, 2021

Posted by on 19 May 2021 | Tagged as: 1872, Connecticut River ecosystem, Connecticut River Refuge, Connecticut River shortnose sturgeon, Conte National Fish & Wildlife Refuge, Endangered Species Act, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, FirstLight, fish passage, Great Falls, Landmark Supreme Court Decision 1872, Monte Belmonte, Northfield Mountain, Peskeomscut, Relicensing, Rock Dam, Turners Falls, Turners Falls dam, Turners Falls Massacre, United State Supreme Court, Vernon Dam Fishway

Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer

I took a bicycle ride 20 miles upstream to Vernon Dam this day in hopes of finding a few fish in the windows there. It proved a fruitless journey, though a pretty ride on a summer-like afternoon. There were plenty of lively bubbles in the windows, but not a single shad or early lamprey. Nothing.

The Vernon Fishladder and Dam Photo Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer

This was a river site smack in the midst of migration season that should have seen its first shad weeks ago. But here, on an 80 degree day, nothing.

The Connecticut’s DEAD REACH below Turners Falls Dam Photo Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer

That nothing is because the river downstream below Turners Falls Dam is all but empty. A thin stream of perhaps 1000 cubic feet per second is being dumped over the dam. What should be here, a full three years after the federal license for the hydro site expired, are flows on the order of 5X higher. That water, instead, continues to be dumped into FirstLight’s power canal in order to get an extra peak-priced power jump that puts more money in their coffers and leaves federal trust American shad and federally-endangered shortnose sturgeon starved of migration and spawning flows necessary for them to complete their life cycles in their natural habitats.

For the shad, that fully should now include the 50 miles of open spawning habitat above TF Dam that reaches to Bellows Falls VT and Charlestown NH. But, without water in the DEAD REACH for yet another year, their percentage-prospects for that are in the very low single digits.

The exposed and baking cobbles at Rock Dam, where shortnose sturgeon eggs and early life stage young are supposed to find watery shelter. Photo Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer

And, the endangered sturgeon, well, the message from the company is simply–tough luck. Flows at their only documented natural spawning site in the entire ecosystem have be dismal at their Rock Dam nursery and refuge. They were Monday, and Tuesday, and again today. This is a river run by foreigners with no mercy. And, in the midst of all this–in the midst of a a relicensing for facilities whose current license ENDED three spawning seasons back, no one has stepped up for the Connecticut River shortnose sturgeon in their time of greatest need. Another season, another sidestep for federal and state fish and environment agencies who fail to act again… and again. And, just one more year for a river without a single independent watchdog–on the four-state Silvio O. Conte Connecticut River National FISH & Wildlife Refuge.

This is a river that, 174 years after the US Supreme Court made the landmark(1872) environmental decision in HOLYOKE COMPANY v. LYMAN that dam and facility operators must ensure safe upstream and downstream passage for migratory fish, does not even have a single day-to-day attorney, as even the most bare bones watchdog organization would. And the one on this river has been around since Truman was president.

No water, no watchdog, no ESA enforcement. Corporate Canada–which today owns Northfield Mountain and Turners Falls/Cabot operations, has nothing to fear in this “refuge.” And, the other sad irony, not lost on me as I made my way upstream, is that today is the solemn anniversary of the Turners Falls Massacre, the grim genocidal event that wrested sovereignty from Native People in today’s southern New England on May 19, 1676. They were ambushed in the pre-dawn at Peskeomscut, the great falls, because they had come to the banks of a living river that would feed them, offer them water, shelter, and rest as it had for generations past. It was a respite that was not to endure…

Something there yet remains evident today in the starved riverbed. Recovery is still a dream denied to this place. There is yet little life. This a place that awaits healing water that might again make it whole once more.

Today it sits abandoned, reduced to computations and algorithms that see only money and megawatts as a river’s reason to be…

NOTE: Please click on the link below which includes an invitation to the WalK-the-Walk for Endangered Sturgeon to Rock Dam this Saturday. It is important that people show up for the River. Please join myself and others. And please be aware that there is some steep terrain on this walk.

https://wrsi.com/monte/how-to-save-the-shortnose-sturgeon/

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

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


THE ROCK DAM Photo Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer

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

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


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

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


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

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

* PROGRAM DETAILS BELOW *

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

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

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

CONNECTICUT RIVER IMPEACHMENT DAY

Posted by on 15 Feb 2021 | Tagged as: Clean Water Act, Connecticut River, Connecticut River ecosystem, conservancy, critical habitat, defense, Endangered Species Act, EPA, ESA, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, federally-endangered Connecticut River shortnose sturgeon, federally-endangered shortnose sturgeon, FERC, FirstLight, impeachment, IS IT CLEAN?, Monte Belmonte, Northfield Mountain, podcast, Rock Dam, Rock Dam Pool, The River, Turners Falls, Uncategorized, water lab, WRSI

CONNECTICUT RIVER IMPEACHMENT DAY: FEB.13,2021
Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer

The Connecticut River and the effluent entering it at the Rock Dam in Turners Falls on February 13, 2021. Photo Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer

Rock Dam. Ancient fishing place at Peskeomscutt. Critical habitat, gathering and spawning place for the Connecticut River shortnose sturgeon–federally endangered fish with genetics as old as the ancient basalt that defines their habitat. Rock Dam, ancient cultural site where the riverbanks fail in yards-wide gashes, bleeding an oozy orange puss that flows in a constant ribbon into the age-old riverbed there.

(FOR A PODCAST< related to this post go to: https://wrsi.com/monte/saving-rock-dam-from-damnation/. It is from WRSI/The River radio, with host Monte Belmonte)

This is how ecosystems die, how a planet dies, bit by little bit–day after day. Sixteen months ago I submitted documents and pictures of this degradation to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. All parties, stakeholders, and federal and state fisheries agencies were apprised of my FERC report and intervention. All have long staked claims as this great river’s protectors.

Ever-so-slowly FERC responded to my report of critical habitat degradation by absurdly requiring FirstLight do its own investigation of their bank failures and discharge running to the only documented natural spawning site of the only federally endangered migratory fish in the river. FirstLight, in representing itself, found itself exonerated of responsibility. Blame for the constant red tide was somehow placed at the feet of the public.

Day by day, by day, by day, by day–this is how a river rots, while so many sit on the sidelines. Day by day, in the midst of an endless legal relicensing process addressing environmental conditions in New England’s River, the assault continues, the banks fail–the orange sludge enters. A simple act of courage would have sufficed: just scoop some bank sludge, have it analyzed. Take a beaker’s worth of water to your lab; run a test.

If you brag about your water quality lab and–yet week after week, month upon month, season after season, ignore the grim juice invading critical river habitat right on your Greenfield doorstep, you are a failed entity. You have no valid claim as a solution, you are this river’s problem. If riverbanks fail in the most critical reach of the main stem river in the midst of relicensing on your watch and you don’t sue, your erosion committee is just window dressing.

Today two conservancies lay claim to championing New England’s Great River. But there is no conservancy in evidence here–no rescue, no enforcement, no prosecution. There’s been no sampling, even as little fish promo rescues were videoed in the muck-filled power canal just 100 yards away. Upstream in the actual riverbed, more happy-time swimming podcasts were filmed, while not a single lens was pointed at the Rock Dam pool’s grim debasement, a quarter mile distant. Sixteen months, and a deafening silence here–while congratulatory broadcasts are run celebrating how the Connecticut was cleaned-up and saved… Really. Really? Cleaned up, saved???


The Rock Dam spawning pool, the most critically endangered habitat on the entire Connecticut River. Photo Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer

Here, at the most critical habitat in the entire river ecosystem, it might as well be 1940. It appears the Clean Water Act applies only to other rivers; the Endangered Species Act–that’s a law for somewhere else. To protect the life force of a river requires diving in like an ER doctor, protecting the core at all costs. Any ancillary PR busy work around the tributary edges can happen sometime down the road. The victim must be stabilized, first, lest there’s nothing left to save.

If you lay claim to a river, you have a duty to preserve, protect and defend. Not when its easy; not just where it won’t ruffle any feathers. Today, there is no defense for what is here, on this river–central artery of a fish and wildlife refuge. Truth is, there is NO DEFENSE ON THE CONNECTICUT RIVER, no entity posting-up against corporate abuse. None exercising the courage or integrity to prosecute a real defense.

Conservancy here, appears to equate with comfort zone. Its a safe place, in a refuge where the by-word seems to be simply–go along to get along. Podcasts are no substitute for intervention and prosecution; filing endless pages of testimony is merely more talking-the-talk.

Enforcement is what’s been missing on New England’s river these last 70 years. In its absence the life force of an ecosystem has teetered on the edge of viability for generations in the Connecticut’s critical reaches at Turners Falls and Northfield Mountain. Today the grim faltering can be easily witnessed daily at the Rock Dam in Turners Falls, where hour upon hour, day after day, critical habitat is bathed in failure; a great river remains undefended.

On other Northeast rivers–ones smaller, and with much younger organizations formed for their defense, things are handled differently, directly. They take defense as an obligation; they employ staff lawyers, investigate, and take action. Instead of remaining silent and sidelined for generations while tethered to the cash handouts of the corporate chow-line–when they witness crimes they take the bastards to court.

Here, with no watchdog to fear, they are playing for keeps.

END NOTE: generations of Canadian shareholders at PSP Investments, FirstLight’s parent owner, are very much looking forward to enjoying the profits from a river and ecosystem shredded by the daily net-loss operation of Northfield Mountain. What will our great grandkids think of what we failed to do here?

A Connecticut River return to the bad old days?

Posted by on 18 Oct 2020 | Tagged as: American shad, Cabot Woods, Clean Water Act, Connecticut River, Connecticut River Conservancy, Connecticut River riverbank failure, Connecticut River shortnose sturgeon, Endangered Species Act, Eversource, Farmington River, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, federally-endangered shortnose sturgeon, FirstLight, FirstLight Power, Greenfield Community College, Northeast Utilities, Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Project, pumped storage, Relicensing, Rock Dam, Rock Dam Pool, Society of Environmental Journalists, Source to Sea Cleanup, The Recorder, The Revelator, Turners Falls, Turners Falls dam, Turners Falls power canal, Uncategorized, US Geological Survey's Conte Fish Lab, Vermont Digger, Vernon Dam Fishway

The riverbanks at Rock Dam
Photo
Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer

Note: the following piece appeared recently in VTDigger, www.vtdigger.org, https://vtdigger.org/2020/10/18/karl-meyer-a-connecticut-river-return-to-the-bad-old-days/ and in the The Recorder, www.recorder.com, (no story link posted)

                        A Connecticut River return to the bad old days?

Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer All rights reserved

On September 1st, FirstLight Power petitioned the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for a 3rd delay in submitting final license applications to run Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station and their Turners Falls hydro sites in Massachusetts. In a process now in its 9th year, the Canadian-owned company wants 4 more months to restudy NMPS’s water release impacts on endangered tiger beetles 30 miles downstream. It was bad news capping a dismal year for a Connecticut River that’s not seen any semblance of natural flows in the Bay State for half a century.

Despite recent on-air, print and social media stories of cleanup heroism, secret swimming holes, baby lamprey rescue and adult lamprey barbecues, our river seems headed back toward its time as “the nation’s best landscaped sewer.”

In August hundreds of thousands of gallons of raw sewage overflows enter its main stem, fouling it from Springfield to Middletown CT. In June, for the second time in a year, toxic PFAS entered waterways at Bradley Airport triggering fish consumption warnings and menacing water supplies on the Farmington all the way to its meeting with the Connecticut. A year ago–almost exactly 19 years after a factory spill killed thousands of North River fish, that grizzly Colrain kill was replicated when sulfuric acid again flowed from that site into that same tributary. 

In Vermont this year structural problems at Vernon Dam likely led to the big downturn in American shad reaching central New England. At Vernon this spring structural problems at that fishway likely led to the big downturn in American shad passing upstream there to central New England. The partial blockage might have been caught–and repaired, had two students downriver at Greenfield Community College fulfilled their weekly fish counting obligations. Important tallying, via downloaded video, just didn’t happen–leaving the problem at Vernon Dam undetected for a full migration season.

Meanwhile in Turners Falls riverbanks were collapsing—some oozing grim puss that’s leaching to the most endangered habitat in the ecosystem. The Rock Dam is an in-river ledge that’s provided refuge to federally endangered shortnose sturgeon for centuries. It’s their sole documented natural spawning site. Pink-orange slurry has been flushing from the banks there for a year–running into the river’s cobble bed where early life stage sturgeon shelter and develop.

A red slurry enters the Connecticut at the Rock Dam
Photo
Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer

Visitors to the river at Rock Dam off “Migratory Way” in Cabot Woods will see a 30 foot hemlock and saplings being eaten by a sinkhole now big enough for a Mini-Cooper. Banks there slump to a series of nasty, yards-wide, gashes—one with a dumped tire in its center. Slime squeezing from them sloughs in weeping riverlets that flow the final few yards to the river’s sturgeon nursery as a rusty precipitate of oxidizing iron, manganese and other unknown agents. In a drought year, the adjacent muck-choked canal is clearly the destabilizing water source.

Upriver failing FirstLight banks are threatening Millers Falls Road and houses on a buff there. Pipe failure is said to be a culprit. The town made expensive repairs, dumping rubble on that hillside at a sharp river curve called The Narrows. Failures at such nearby sites might merit closer examination. The Narrows is where current pushes against the outer riverbanks–a classic place for surging water to create erosional impact. Northfield Mountain creates big suck-and-surge cycles just 4 miles upstream–sending down powerful pulses that cause daily 3 foot “tides” at Turners Falls Dam. Some can reach 9 feet.

NMPS was completed in 1972 by Northeast Utilities. Rebranded as Eversource and now expanding into natural gas, they are still New England’s grid monopoly and perennial major sponsor of the Source to Sea Cleanup. NMPS is a now 48 year-old FirstLight holding, but still sending its surges down the Narrows to that dam. There, they get shunted into the power canal, ultimately exerting pressure against its massively muck-choked outer bank–adjacent and just 400 feet from those dissolving banks at Rock Dam. Ironically, any flow the canal can’t swallow gets flushed over the dam in channel-ramping surges to the starved, oft-empty riverbed below. That parch-and-flood cycle further impacts Rock Dam’s shores; then heads to endangered Puritan tiger beetle habitat 30 miles away.

The muck-choked outer bank of the drawn-down Turner Falls power canal on Sept. 14, 2020 Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer

The US Geological Survey’s Conte Anadromous Fish Research Center sits 250 yards from Rock Dam. Shortnose sturgeon and their critical Rock Dam pool were extensively studied by their researchers there for decades. Now debased and failing, it is ignored. What about the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act? That lab sits on a bank opposite Greenfield, home to the 68 year-old, recently-rebranded Connecticut River Conservancy. Why isn’t CRC testing that Rock Dam slurry at their water lab? Have they sent any slime samples out for analysis? Where’s their Streambank Erosion Committee? Why would a federal lab abandon the long-term endangered species research site at its door?

As self-described champions of “Science for a Changing World” and “Healthy habitats,” neither has steered a reporter or video crew to that elephant in the room. Perhaps it’s their admission of powerlessness. CRC, dependent on various federal and state fish and environmental agencies for grant monies won’t likely be calling out their failures anytime soon. They have no enforcement mandate and employ no staff lawyers. Thus they never challenge the big dogs, and power companies know it.

If a river could talk I think it would say cleanups look nice, but they won’t save rivers. That requires an unencumbered 21st century organization—one with lawyers and an enforcement mandate corporations can’t ignore.

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.

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