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Meetings this week on relicensing river hydroelectric facilities

TURNERS FALLS — The meetings this week that the federal government will be conducting to launch the re-licensing of Connecticut River hydroelectric facilities in the county will give the public, as well as various agencies and nonprofit groups, a say in several critical environmental and recreational issues, say planners.

The “scoping” sessions planned for today and Thursday at the Turners Falls Discovery Center will be a key opportunity to change what Franklin Regional Planning Board member Tom Miner says has been a 40-year “experiment” in the way the river has operated. And outcome of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s 5½-year process will determine how the Turners Falls and Vernon, Vt., hydroelectric plants and the Northfield Mountain pumped storage facility will be allowed to operate for as much as the next 50 years, Miner told the regional planning board last week.

A meeting today at 9 a.m. will focus on First Light Power Co.’s Turners Falls hydro stations and Northfield Mountain. A meeting on the projects is also set for the same location Thursday at 6 p.m.

In addition to those project-specific meetings, FERC will also schedule a meeting at 9 a.m. Thursday at the Discovery Center about cumulative incremental effects of the five Connecticut River projects being relicensed.

Miner and other representatives of the Franklin Regional Council of Governments have spoken with town officials in Montague, Gill, Northfield and Erving, which border the river in the 20-mile stretch of river between the Vernon and Turners Falls dams, and he said Greenfield also has reason to see that its interests are represented at the sessions.

While First Light sees this as a continuation of its operation of the hydro facilities, Miner says “This has been a 40-year experiment. We need to look at the good things and the bad things and what to do to eliminate and ameliorate the bad things, like treating the Connecticut River as a big bath tub, you can pump water in and out of, and to look at the environmental impacts.”

The streambank erosion committee, which has been concerned with how streambank erosion in the 20-mile “Turners Falls Pool” is affected by operation of the Northfield project, hopes to get First Light to adopt specific standards to use in a “full river reconnaissance” of that section of river, which has been done every three to five years, so that they can be easily compared to see which sections have improved or deteriorated.

TransCanada Hydro’s Vernon, Vt., hydroelectric project, which along with that company’s Wilder hydroelectric project further upstream, will have its own designated meeting at the Marlboro College Graduate School in Brattleboro, Vt. on Wednesday at 7 p.m.

Among the other key issues identified by groups are First Light’s continued operation of recreational facilities at Northfield Mountain, Barton Cove and elsewhere, and to improve those facilities — for example, by removing silt “to make sure Barton Cove is passable for boats again,” Miner said.

Environmental groups also want to see the generating company provide for more flows in the stretch of river immediately downstream from the Turners Falls Dam to provide habitat for fish and other aquatic life.

You can reach Richie Davis at:
rdavis@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, Ext. 269

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