On May 15, 2024
Opinions

Tell the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to protect the Connecticut River

Dear Editor,

It has been 12 years since the relicensing process began for five hydroelectric facilities on the Connecticut River, and until May 22, there is an opportunity to comment to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). 

The last time these hydro facilities were licensed was in 1979, and once the new licenses are issued, they will stay in place for the next 30-50 years! Why does this matter? These licenses will impact 175 miles of the Connecticut River — including 16 towns in Vermont, 14 towns in New Hampshire, and five towns in Massachusetts. These facilities impact habitat for migratory fish and other native species, public access to recreation, historical and cultural resources, and water quality.  

The Wilder, Bellows Falls, and Vernon dams in Vermont and New Hampshire (owned by Great River Hydro), and the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station and Turners Falls dam in Massachusetts (owned by FirstLight Power), currently have license applications under review by the FERC. Through this federal process the public has a right to express their concerns about how we want to access our river, how the projects operate, and what should be done to mitigate impacts. This final federal comment period on the license applications is open until May 22.

The Connecticut River is a public trust resource, which means that it must be preserved and protected for public benefit. The federal license is a contract with the people to allow use of our river to generate electricity. The Connecticut River has been dammed for over a hundred years, and we only have this one opportunity, when these 30 to 50-year licenses expire, to be heard about what should be done to protect the river and support our river communities. We all have a say in how companies like Great River Hydro and FirstLight Power use the river and now is our chance to tell the FERC what we care about.

It’s time for these hydro facilities to take responsibility for the impacts caused by their operations. As part of their federal license to operate, they can be required to make improvements to protect natural resources, provide access to the river, and support local communities in return for the privilege of using our river to generate power. Specifically, FERC should require both companies to: 

Have erosion control plans to address bank erosion, stabilize banks, and compensate landowners for loss of land;

Establish long term monitoring and assessment of how sediment will move in the river due to operational changes over the next license;

Create comprehensive improvements to recreation access and provide state of the art ADA compliant recreation amenities along the entire 175 miles of river;

Set the shortest possible licensing term (30 years as opposed to 50);

Make immediate upgrades to fish ladders to protect American shad, American eel, sea lamprey and shortnose sturgeon — 16 to 20 years is too long to wait;

Prioritize protective land management, which includes conservation easements, management of terrestrial and aquatic invasives, and improvements to habitat and riparian buffers;

Develop education about and protection of indigenous cultural resources related to the river.

Great River Hydro has proposed a change in how the facilities will operate over the coming license which will help the river return to a more natural flow while not impacting their revenues. A real win-win! While we’re not against these companies making a reasonable return on their investment, they should get that only after making a better deal with the public and our local communities. That means comprehensively supporting our communities and the health of your river over the next 30-50 years.

Comments to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission by local communities, the states, and individuals are needed by May 22 to ensure that the new license requires improvements to increase the health of our river, enhance our communities, and protect our migratory species. We won’t have this opportunity again for a generation. Act now! We are holding online hydropower office Hours to help you comment. Learn how to get involved at: ctriver.org/hydropower.    

Kathy Urffer, Brattleboro

Editor’s note: Urffer is the director of policy and advocacy and Vermont river steward for Connecticut River Conservancy.

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