Relationship between hydro-electric plant, river environment focus of walking tour

  • Kayakers paddle along the Connecticut River in Northfield in September 2020. The state of the river will be highlighted in a walking tour between Northfield and Erving on Saturday morning. Staff File Photo/Paul Franz

Staff Writer
Published: 4/21/2021 8:39:11 PM

The state of the Connecticut River will be highlighted in a walking tour on Saturday morning as a slightly belated celebration of Earth Day on Thursday. Guides will discuss how wildlife and the river environment are affected by the electrical facilities on the local stretch of the river.

The tour starts Saturday at 10:30 a.m. The group will meet on Dorsey Road in Erving, which crosses under the French King Bridge. The walk will be about 3 miles round-trip along the river between Erving and Northfield, and is expected to take about two hours. It is organized by the Traprock Center for Peace and Justice.

The electrical facility on this stretch of the river is the Northfield Mountain hydro-electric plant, which generates electricity by drawing water from the river up the mountain, then pouring it back down through turbines. Some, including the Greenfield-based Connecticut River Conservancy, have criticized the facility and the FirstLight Hydro Generating Co., which owns it, for negatively impacting the river. FirstLight has disputed these claims.

One of these critics is Karl Meyer, an environmental journalist who lives in Greenfield. He will be one of the guides on Saturday’s tour, according to Anna Gyorgy, a member of the Traprock Center for Peace and Justice’s board of directors.

Meyer has claimed that the activity of the Northfield Mountain facility has an unnatural effect on the river, effectively forcing it to flow backwards at certain times of day, killing fish and other river wildlife.

“The fish don’t have lawyers. They don’t have standing,” Gyorgy said. “We don’t see this. The pumping happens at night. ... We are going to have people telling us what we can’t see, and what we need to know.”

Other guides are expected to be on the tour as well, but as of Wednesday it was not clear who else would be speaking besides Meyer, Gyorgy said.

Gyorgy emphasized that the Northfield Mountain hydro-electric facility was designed to complement the Vermont Yankee nuclear power facility, which is now closed. Yet the Northfield facility is still in operation, she noted.

Although the Connecticut River would seem to be a public asset, the potential environmental impact that the Northfield facility has on the river has never been fully discussed in public, she said.

Now, FirstLight is renewing its federal licenses for the Northfield facility, plus two hydro-electric dams in Montague, making the issues more timely than they may have been before, she said.

“To me, these are all climate and local democracy issues,” Gyorgy said. “Earth Day should be an opportunity to be critical.”

Reach Max Marcus at mmarcus@recorder.com or 413-930-4231.




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