Forum airs concerns about FirstLight relicensing process

  • FirstLight Hydro Generating Co.’s Turners Falls dam. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • FirstLight Hydro Generating Co.’s Northfield Mountain turbine hall in Northfield. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

  • FirstLight Hydro Generating Co.’s Cabot Station turbine hall in Turners Falls. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 1/25/2022 4:09:22 PM
Modified: 1/25/2022 4:08:05 PM

GREENFIELD — The environmental advocacy group Greening Greenfield convened around 50 concerned residents at an online forum Monday to discuss FirstLight Hydro Generating Co.’s controversial relicensing process.

The panel, according to Greening Greenfield’s Nancy Hazard, was necessitated by the community’s frustration regarding FirstLight’s slow relicensing process and concern over the company’s environmental ethics.

Most of the hour-long session consisted of state Rep. Natalie Blais, state Sen. Jo Comerford and Connecticut River Conservancy River Steward Andrea Donlon sharing how they’ve been active in ensuring FirstLight’s three facilities up for relicensing do not further compromise the health of the river. Greening Greenfield concluded the meeting by imploring the public to write letters to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) to advocate for a “robust” public hearing process.

Blais and Comerford each showed support for Greening Greenfield, with Blais calling their advocacy “an extraordinary service to everyone” and Comerford saying, “I love Greening Greenfield.” The politicians also explained they have been dealing with FirstLight relicensing concerns for a long time, with Blais going so far as to call the topic one of the first items she had to address after she took office.

“One of the very first emails that I received was about the FirstLight relicensing process,” she said. “There was rarely a month that went by without correspondence on this issue.”

The three facilities up for relicensing — a hydro-pump facility at Northfield Mountain and two hydroelectric dams in Turners Falls — have been criticized for their impact on the river and surrounding environment. The Connecticut River Conservancy has said the dams have affected fish migration, and that the changes in river flow have impacted wildlife habitats and caused excessive erosion of the riverbanks. The Northfield Mountain hydro-pump storage facility has also been criticized for its impact on fish populations.

Greening Greenfield and its supporters collectively expressed skepticism regarding the sufficiency of the public hearing process laid out by the DEP to address these concerns. The DEP, which will be reviewing FirstLight’s Water Quality Certificate application, currently plans two public hearings, but a lack of further details prompted environmental activists to demand more.

“I hear tonight from you that two is not enough. … We’ll ask for more robust opportunities for the public,” Comerford said, adding that she is “advocating for independent eyes.”

“It’s been a long road,” Donlon said of the fight for environmental justice. “It’s been frustrating, confusing, very interesting.”

The panel also addressed the topic of FirstLight’s private meetings with stakeholders intended to discuss the relicensing process. Comerford maintained that she had not been present during related negotiations.

“I was not a part of it,” she said, “and I know for a fact that Rep. Blais was not a part of it.”

FirstLight maintains it has done its due diligence in terms of fielding public desires. In a recent statement, FirstLight’s Head of Government Affairs and Communications Len Greene wrote that “actively engaged” discussions with “over 20 local stakeholder organizations” have yielded a “considerable investment of time, insight and valuable dialogue that’s been put into the engagement process.”

“Under the state’s DEP process, there will be additional opportunities for public participation,” he wrote, “and we support a robust engagement process on these critical renewable energy assets that deliver clean, reliable and cost-competitive power to the region.”

Attendees were encouraged to go to bit.ly/3KBczNI for suggestions on how to write a letter to the DEP and EEA.

Reach Julian Mendoza at 413-772-0261, ext. 261 or jmendoza@recorder.com.


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