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Testing the white waters of the Connecticut River

TURNERS FALLS — Connecticut River dam owner FirstLight Power Resources has notified the town of Montague that the company will be testing the waters below the dam for white water use, raising the possibility of expanded recreation and tourism in the old industrial village.

Town Planner Walter Ramsey received a notice from FirstLight that the dam’s operators will be conducting a whitewater boating evaluation in the “bypass reach” of the river from the Turners Falls Dam to Cabot station on July 19, 20 and 21.

“Over the course of the three day study, FirstLight will be releasing a series of higher than normal flows at the Turners Falls Dam and into the bypass reach for a team of whitewater boaters with a range of experience to boat and assess the potential opportunity for whitewater boating in this area,” the letter reads.

The utility is in the midst of its re-licensing with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and evaluating the whitewater potential is one of the requirements of that process.

“They have to look at what resources the public’s not getting as a result of this hydro project, and one of those is the ability to use the river for boating, rafting purposes,” Ramsey said Tuesday.

The bypass reach in question is a nearly mile-long stretch of the river proper, flowing between the “Patch” island neighborhood of Turners Falls and a stretch of Greenfield’s wooded Rocky Mountain Park. Water is diverted by the dam into the Power Canal, which flows past several mill buildings before feeding into the power station.

The bypass reach parallels the canal.

Ramsey said there’s no indication of where any potential access points for whitewater recreation use might be, but increased river access would fit nicely with plans for the village.

“This would complement the 2013 Downtown Turners Falls Livability Plan, which calls for enhanced public access and enjoyment of the river in order to realize Turners Falls’ potential as a recreation destination,” he said.

Ramsey said the utility has also warned that as a result of the extra water released, the river upstream of the dam will be noticeably lower on those days.

You can reach Chris Curtis at: ccurtis@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 257

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