Green groups, rafters want say in Bear Swamp water releases

  • A raft from Zoar Outdoor navigates Zoar Gap in Charlemont. Recorder File Photo

Staff Writer
Published: 2/8/2019 11:56:04 PM

MONROE – Several environmental organizations and recreational companies plan to file to intervene in a license application submitted by the owner of Bear Swamp, a hydroelectric power station located on the Deerfield River in Monroe and Florida.

The hydroelectric power station is up for re-licensing for the first time since it opened in the 1970s. Hydropower licenses are issued for terms of up to 50 years, according to an online guide published by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

The desires of environmental organizations and recreational companies are mostly at odds. Environmental groups want gradual releases of water year-round to preserve marine life in the Deerfield River. Conversely, recreational companies, who rely on water releases for white-water rafting tours, prefer faster releases of water in the summertime only, so as not to use up water in the off-season. 

The deadline to file to intervene in the license application filed by Brookfield Renewable Group, owner of Bear Swamp hydroelectric power station, is April 1. That’s 60 days after the company published a notice informing the public it had applied for a license application. 

Environmental non-profits Connecticut River Conservancy and Trout Unlimited say they intend to file to intervene in the application, citing concerns about the generators’ impacts on the river’s ecosystem. Such a study has been rejected twice by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in recent years, despite recommendations from the Mass. Department of Fisheries and Wildlife and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 

Trout Unlimited plans to request Brookfield Renewable Group conduct a study to assess the environmental effects of the station, Kevin Parsons, the organization’s former president and current co-chair of its conservation committee, said Thursday.  The organization is most concerned about how the power generator affects spawning habits of trout living in the Deerfield River. Trout eggs can die when the power generator releases too little water, or when it releases water too quickly, Parsons said. Trout Unlimited’s key objective is to create a healthy environment for trout in the Deerfield River, so much so that it becomes a destination for anglers. 

“We want a longer, more gradual, up-and-down flow,” Parsons said. 

The Connecticut River Conservancy also intends to file to intervene in the application. River Steward Andrea Donlon said studies have indicated that bugs are negatively impacted by the power station. There were also no freshwater mussels found in the river – “and a river like the Deerfield River should have mussels,” Donlon said. However, much is still unknown about the power station’s impacts on the river, Donlon said, and an environmental study is necessary to find out. 

Several recreational companies will also protest the license, seeking more consistent flows of water to support their outdoor activities. Zoar Outdoor, a Charlemont outdoor company, intends to file to intevene in the power station’s licensing application with five other outdoor organizations in the area, President Bruce Lessels said Thursday. Zoar Outdoor relies on releases of water during its 120 to 130 days of operation. Of these days, the power station guarantees it will release water at 800 cubic feet per second (CFS) once per day for 106 days. On other days, the releases are less predictible. Lessels said the company is concerned that increasing flows of water outside of recreation season may use up the power station’s water reserves, meaning there won’t be enough water to release during the summertime. The cost to the three outfitters who rely on the power station is about $30,000, Lessels said. 

Meanwhile, environmental groups say that decreasing releases too much can hurt marine life. They say that gradual releases year-round of about 350 cubic feet per second (CFS) is vital to preserve the Deerfield River ecosystem.

“When they have a higher flow, it is faster, so they’re having a better time,” Parsons said. “We oppose their position in calling for an increase in flows.”

Asked about the power station’s effect on the river, Lessels said he did not think it had “significant impacts” on the environment. Lessels said he was not aware of the environmental study proposed in 2015 and 2018. 

The deadline to file to intervene in Brookfield Renewable Group’s application to re-license Bear Swamp hydroelectric power station is April 1. 

Reach Grace Bird at: gbird@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 280




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