After multi-month process, FirstLight seals hydraulic leak at Turners Falls Dam

  • FirstLight Hydro Generating Co.’s Health, Safety and Environment Manager Patty Goclowski locks up after Thursday’s cleanup work on the Connecticut River. STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

  • FirstLight Hydro Generating Co. and Clean Harbors environmental services tend to the hydraulic fluid leak on the side of the Turners Falls Dam closest to the Great Falls Discovery Center and canal on Thursday. STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

  • FirstLight Hydro Generating Co. and Clean Harbors environmental services tend to the hydraulic fluid leak on the side of the Turners Falls Dam closest to the Great Falls Discovery Center and canal on Thursday. STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

  • Absorbent booms in the Connecticut River below the Turners Falls Dam on Friday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Absorbent booms in the Connecticut River below the Turners Falls Dam on Friday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • The Turners Falls Dam and Turners Falls-Gill Bridge as seen from Gill. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 4/15/2022 3:35:23 PM

TURNERS FALLS — FirstLight Hydro Generating Co. and Clean Harbors environmental services collaborated to seal a hydraulic fluid leak at the Turners Falls Dam this week, entering the final stages of a nearly two-month-long process that raised concern from river advocates.

According to a statement from FirstLight Head of Government Affairs and Communications Len Greene, the company — which is responsible for maintaining the dam and surrounding area of the Connecticut River — noticed a stain on the ice below the dam on Feb. 23. FirstLight then notified the state Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) of a suspected hydraulic fluid leak and worked with the state to develop a plan to address the issue.

Montague Town Administrator Steve Ellis said the town had been notified of FirstLight’s communication with MassDEP and said there were “no red flags presented in respect to concerns” regarding anything being mishandled.

Initially, icy river conditions prevented FirstLight from installing oil booms and absorbent material to remove the oil from the water, according to Greene. The company was finally able to install a boom and absorbent “socks” along the gate and the cove below the dam on March 3.

High river flows caused this boom to come loose on March 22, and prevented the reattachment of the boom and the installation of additional booms downstream “despite several attempts to do so,” Greene wrote. The absorbent material remained in place.

The last piece of ice that had prevented safe access to repair the hydraulic fluid leak dropped away on Tuesday, according to Greene. With the ice clear, material was able to be injected around the leak to stop it on Wednesday.

“There is still hydraulic fluid trapped below the dam, but we expect flows to decrease today to the point where we can install additional booms and begin to remove the remaining fluid,” Greene wrote on Thursday. “The loose boom will be reattached.”

Workers from Clean Harbors were present at the Turners Falls Dam on Thursday, wrapping up their work by the end of the afternoon.

“Throughout this process,” Greene wrote, “we have regularly updated DEP and continue to remain in contact with them on our efforts to contain and repair the leak.”

Andrea Donlon, river steward with the Greenfield-based Connecticut River Conservancy, said she was notified about FirstLight’s hydraulic fluid leak by a resident on Feb. 14. She suggested the caller reach out to MassDEP and the Fire Department.

“I figured that it would be fixed instantly,” she said.

Donlon said she received another call in late March with the same concern.

“I do find it concerning. I acknowledge that it’s a challenging site,” she said. “It seems like it wasn’t adequately contained, and that’s disappointing.”

Although the Connecticut River Conservancy has not been involved in cleanup of the leak, Donlon said she visited the site on Thursday, adding that it looked like the leak was fixed and FirstLight and Clean Harbors were working on the cleanup effort.

Reach Julian Mendoza at 413-772-0261, ext. 261 or jmendoza@recorder.com. Intern Catherine Hurley contributed to this report.


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