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Connecticut River: citizens taking a stand to end Northfield Mountain’s half century of killing

Posted by on 02 Apr 2022 | Tagged as: America's best landscaped sewer, Clean Water Act, Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Connecticut River, Connecticut River Day of Mourning, Connecticut River ecosystem, Conte National Fish & Wildlife Refuge, Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, FERC, FirstLight Power, Greenfield Recorder, Julie Crocker, Landmark Supreme Court Decision 1872, MA Division of Fish and Wildlife, Mark Tisa, Martin Suuberg, migratory fish, Mr. Mark S. Tisa, National Marine Fisheries Service, net-loss power, New Hampshire, no license to kill, Northfield Mountain, Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station, P-2485, PSP Investments, The Recorder, US Fish & Wildlife Service, US Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act, US Supreme Court, USFWS, Vermont, Vermont Digger, VT Digger, Waterkeeper Alliance, Wendi Weber, wrsi.com


The giant sucking intake mouth of FirstLight/PSP Investment’s Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station, where it preys on the aquatic life of the Connecticut in three New England states.Photo Copyright © 2022 by Karl Meyer

Things to understand about the current extended (expired April 30, 2018) and proposed FirstLight federal license for Northfield Mountain operations:

* Under commonly occurring conditions, its suction and pumping will continue to force more than 5 miles of the river to flow backwards.

* Northfield Mountain’s daily use will continue to obliterate 100s of millions of fish and aquatic animals annually.

* It’s suction and subsequent regurgitation of a deadened river at over 15,000 cubic feet per second, and 20,000 cubic feet per second respectively, for hours on end, is roughly the equivalent of swallowing all the aquatic life in the 4-story, 19,000 sq. ft. Hawkes and Reed building in Greenfield–one EVERY second, SIXTY every minute, THREE THOUSAND SIX HUNDRED per hour…

The turbines of the pump station suck in life and throw out death,” Shayla Freeland, Gill MA.

The gross megawatts it squanders yearly sucking the river backward could directly power the annual needs of cities and towns up and down this Valley. Instead it will suck out a river’s soul.”
Karl Meyer, Greenfield MA, from the Greenfield Recorder and vtdigger.org.

A There is NO WATCHDOG HERE: interview on THE RIVER ahead of the Connecticut River Day of Mourning.
https://wrsi.com/monte/mourning-the-connecticut-river/

Those seeking a true watchdog model with commitment, staff lawyers and enforcement intent might do well to investigate the Riverkeeper/Waterkeeper organization.

UNDERSTAND: there is no new signed license yet. Only the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission can issue one. FERC itself must ensure that any new license must comply with all existing US environmental laws. This machine does not; and cannot meet those requirements.

The US Supreme Courts decision in 1872 in Holyoke Co. v. Lyman confirmed there must be safe upstream and downstream passage of migratory fish on all US rivers. Canadian-parent owned FirstLight’s proposal fails this.

A river flowing backwards does not meet the standards of the Clean Water Act. You cannot license such impact on a US river.
Northfield Mountain, Northfield MA, where the Connecticut River ecosystem dies… Photo Copyright © 2022, by Karl Meyer

FirstLight’s proposed temporary and flimsy barrier “net” will not even be anchored in the riverbed, and will leave eggs, fish and young of three states exposed to Northfield’s massive suction in their most fragile months of development.

There is nothing in the plan to monitor it daily, below the surface, where the killing occurs. The see-sawing pressure from Northfield and natural river storm flows will very likely leaving it loose and flopping in the current–just as the old net for factory-produced baby salmon did for a quarter century, beginning back in the 1980s. It’s a red herring.

In short, if relicensed, the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station, will continue to kill and erase a living Connecticut River ecosystem in Massachusetts daily. It’s uses has been illegal from the day it opened in 1972, a CENTURY after Holyoke Co. v Lyman.

* *GO ON THE RECORD WITH FERC: tell them “no new license to kill.” Go to: www.ferc.gov; then to “Documents and Filings”; then click on the “Quick Links” tab for FERC Online on the right; and then to “eComment” on the page that opens. Follow directions for “Hydroelectric License/Re-license Proceedings (P – Project Number),” and BE SURE TO use Northfield’s FERC project number, P-2485, to enter your comments.

Then go public, letters, op eds, papers… tell US Fish & Wildlife Service’s Wendi Weber, MA Fish & Wildlife’s Mark Tisa, National Marine Fisheries Julie Crocker, and MA DEP’s Martin Suuberg that
the Connecticut River will not be left to die here in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts… It’s THE PUBLIC’s RIVER.

NO RIVER SHOULD DIE IN THE DARK!

My FERC finding…

Posted by on 21 Jan 2020 | Tagged as: "environmental" species act?, Amherst Bulletin, Connecticut River, Connecticut River ecosystem, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, FERC Chairman Neil Chatterjee, FERC Commissioner Bernard McNamee, FERC Commissioner Richard Glick, FERC Secretary Kimberly D. Bose, The Recorder, Vermont Digger, VT Digger, vtdigger.org

Photo credit: USGS Conte Lab

Copyright © 2019 by Karl Meyer. All Rights Reserved.

My FERC finding…

On August 11, 2019 I sent FERC Secretary Kimberly D. Bose a request for a rehearing of FERC’s allowance of several transfers of licenses for the Northfield Mountain and Turners Falls Projects. My evidence-based objections were based on the federal Endangered Species Act, specifically under the takings and interference prohibitions in that 1973 law.

Exactly two months ago, on November 21, 2019, FERC made its finding: ORDER REJECTING REQUEST FOR REHEARING. I will note here that I have not updated my blog notes as promised just prior to that time. My sole excuse, which may sound flimsy, is simply this: that finding, issued among a rote list of perhaps 20 others simply noted by project and number, came at a regular meeting of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in Washington DC.

I watched the FERC meeting, live, and found the proceedings wholly absurd, insular, insulting to the idea of democracy and fact-based decision-making in a time when planetary systems are failing and a climate emergency is breathing down the neck of this and all future generations.

Perhaps it is no surprise that FERC Chair Neil Chatterjee is a former aide to Mitch McConnell. The Chair seems to run the agency like a kid given the keys to the candy store. Though my decision and a score of others were not mentioned in any specific way, Mr. Chatterjee gleefully boasted of FERC’s sanctioning of two massive LNG EXPORT facilities in Texas. This at a time when–out of the other side of its mouth FERC is bragging that it is a big proponent of energy STORAGE. This is climate denial incarnate.

In my particular case, my request was rejected on technical grounds: “Under Rule 713(c)(2) of the Commission’s Rules of Practice and Procedure, a request for rehearing must include a separate section entitled “Statement of Issues” listing each issue presented to the Commission in a separately enumerated paragraph.20 Any issue not so listed will be deemed waived.21 Mr. Meyer’s rehearing request does not include a “Statement of Issues” and is, therefore, rejected.”

FERC also dismissed my submission of further evidence corroborating ongoing impacts on a federally endangered species—again, not on fact-based findings, but on grounds that my furthering evidence, discovered later, had not been included in my first objections. Apparently, FERC does not allow the interference of witness-based evidence as they hone the narrow logic of their un-vetted decrees. In my case though, it seems my submission presented substantial enough arguments that they at least spent several pages in lame rebuttal after noting that my further submissions were inadmissible:

“In addition, the facts identified by Mr. Meyer in support of his arguments were not raised in his comments in the transfer proceedings, but rather provided after issuance of the Turners Falls and Northfield Transfer Orders. We have previously rejected parties’ attempts to submit new facts and allegations at the rehearing stage because doing so “presents a moving target and frustrates needed finality.”22 Therefore, we also reject Mr. Meyer’s request for rehearing for improperly seeking to enlarge the scope of this proceeding, which is inappropriate at the rehearing stage.”

As far as my finding of these proceedings to be objectionable to the very idea of democracy—and to justice for future generations concerning climate, I must note that FERC Commissioner Bernard McNamee actually referred specifically to the “‘ENVIRONMENTAL’ Species Act” during the proceeding. I wasn’t aware of this new act—but it was actually scrolled, verbatim, across the text feed–on-screen. This is your federal agency, safeguarding and enforcing the laws that will protect future generations. Embarrassed??

One long-standing note on the current make-up of FERC, of the usual 5 commissioners, there are currently only three as of late last year. And, even at this dog-and-pony celebration of burning up yet more ecosystems and draining planetary veins, Commissioner Richard Glick did speak out and decry FERC’s long-standing dereliction of duty in not including the evaluation of climate impacts and green house gas GHG emissions in their greedy corporate math in sanctioning massive new energy projects. At least from a lip-service angle, young people seem to have an ally in Glick.

As with the Impeachment Hearings–beginning this very day, facts and witness evidence seem to have little in common with FERC proceedings and their own version of “just” findings. This is not an agency of the people…

NOTE: directly below is a piece that appeared in The Recorder, Vermont Digger, the Amherst Bulletin, and elsewhere in recent weeks.

Copyright © 2019 by Karl Meyer

The Grinching of the Great River

Each Winter Solstice a few friends and I gather on a quiet bridge to offer a toast honoring New England’s Great River. Lingering above its cold December waters, we send along hopes for the River’s coming year.

As central artery to a 4-state ecosystem and the Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge, the Connecticut needs all the help it can get. Just upstream are the grimmest 10 miles of habitat in its entire 410-mile run. Worst are the suctioning turbines of FirstLight’s Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Project, eviscerating millions of migratory and resident fish year round. Nearer-by are the starkly-dewatered 2-1/2 miles of riverbed dubbed the “By Pass Reach”—ground zero as the sole documented natural spawning site for federally-endangered shortnose sturgeon.

Rinse, kill; repeat has been the daily routine at Northfield since 1972. Formerly running off Vermont Yankee’s excess nuclear electricity, it now operates via massive amounts of imported electricity–basically functioning like a nightmare giant electric toilet. Sucking the river up to its 4 billion gallon reservoir-tank for hours at rates of up to 15,000 cubic feet per second, it kills all life vacuumed up in its vortex. Later, at peak times and peak prices, operators flush that dead water back through turbines, producing a few hours of expensive second-hand juice.

To picture one second of 15,000 cfs suction imagine a 3-story mansion with 7 bedrooms and 8 full bathrooms—filled to the rafters with aquatic life. Now watch it wrenched backward and sucked to oblivion: all fish, eggs, animals and insects destroyed by reversing blades on a twice-through Northfield sleigh ride. Now picture 60 grim implosions each minute, 600 every 10 minutes–3,600 mansions obliterated every hour for hours on end.

A FL consultant’s 2016 study estimated NMPS’s operations resulted in the loss of just 2,200 juvenile American shad. Yet results from a study released in 2018 by the US Fish & Wildlife Service and MA Fisheries & Wildlife estimated that carnage from those same operations actually resulted in the loss of 1,029,865 juvenile shad. Other imperiled migrants include American eel, sea lamprey and blueback herring. Largely unstudied are lethal impacts on 2 dozen resident species. The more it runs, the more it kills.

NMPS has never produced a single watt of its own power. Nor will owners–after bragging to be able to power a million homes for 7 hours, point out they must actually consume the megawatts of some 1.25 – 1.33 million homes in order to do so. It’s a net-loss system, an electric toilet filled by chewing through the core of the S. O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge.

FirstLight now wants to run NMPS even more—attempting to rebrand its second-hand electric output as clean, renewable energy. And the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and ISO-New England are doing their best to keep FL’s unholy new vision afloat. It marries ecosystem-destruction with renewable ocean-energy in a corporate-shareholder package to service unprecedented, climate-warming, construction booms in metro Boston, Providence, Worcester and elsewhere. Massachusetts, host to this plant–and as the largest energy-consuming state in New England, ought to be ashamed and brought to task for the climate- and ecosystem-futures of its children.

In the 1980s a grim proposal arose to employ NMPS to suck up more of the river and pipe it to Quabbin Reservoir for use as reserve metro-Boston water. But citizens, states and towns rebelled under leadership from the likes of the late-Terry Blunt of the Connecticut River Watershed Council and Hadley’s Alexandra Dawson of the Conservation Law Foundation. The result was the 1984 MA Interbasin Transfer Act, forbidding the out-of-basin export of river resources until all conservation efforts are first exhausted. Such leadership is sorely missed today.

On December 20, 2018 FirstLight’s Canadian parent-owners quietly spirited their assets out of New England–re-registering them as separate, limited liability corporate tax shelters in Delaware. It was slick timing. Federal fish negotiators were to undergo a government shutdown the next day. Meanwhile FL remained in the middle of a bid to keep operating their US facilities for decades here under new FERC licensing.

Stakeholders didn’t learn of their move until January 8, 2019. Nearly all cried foul to FERC.

Huge concerns included the loss of access to information used for valuations and information assuring FirstLight can and will be held accountable to supply the construction and funds necessary to meet US and state environmental laws–including the Anadromous Fish Conservation Act, the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act under new licensing.

One year later at the Solstice New England’s Great River remains without courageous leadership and in desperate need of a new NGO–one with a fiery legal department.

Karl Meyer’s “River Report” is broadcast regularly on WHMP. He’s been on the Fish and Aquatics Study Team in the “5-year” FERC relicensing process for the Northfield Mountain and Turners Falls projects since 2013. Meyer is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists. He lives in Greenfield.