My Turn: A Connecticut River day of mourning

  • The Connecticut River FILE PHOTO

Published: 3/29/2022 2:10:15 PM
Modified: 3/29/2022 2:09:19 PM

In a behind-closed-doors move St. Patrick’s Day, federal and state environmental representatives entered into an Agreement in Principle with FirstLight Power to sell the rights of a living Connecticut River to Canada — literally. FirstLight, basement-bargain hunting to secure a new Federal Energy Regulatory Commission license for the river-killing Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station, is parent-owned by Public Sector Investments, a venture capital giant and arm of the Treasury Board of Canada.

Many in this Valley will be heartsick that the chance for a long-awaited renewal of the beleaguered Connecticut River ecosystem in Massachusetts, Vermont and New Hampshire has been abandoned by agents signing documents far from the public’s view. The US Fish & Wildlife Service, MA Division of Fisheries & Wildlife and the National Marine Fisheries Service entered that AIP deal with a foreign-owned–now Delaware tax-sheltered corporation, essentially signaling their intent to allow relicensing of the energy-squandering, river-reversing, deadliest contraption ever installed on our 410 mile river.

As guardians of the public trust, each had half a century to end its crushing brutality. None took up the cause. After recently cutting their own FirstLight deal for recreation access on the river in separate FERC license negotiations, the Connecticut River Conservancy/Watershed Council’s Director Andy Fisk walked away without signing this new AIP. Hundreds of billions of migratory and resident fish have been killed across Northfield’s 50 years of devastation. CRC, now 70 years old, sat on its hands throughout the murderous rampage. They are still green-washing for Eversource, key donor in their yearly Source-to-Sea Cleanup — the company that actually built this monster when they were called WMECO/Northeast Utilities.

The agency signed AIP is a soul-crushing document. It enshrines miles of deadened, reversed and suctioned river. It literally re-sanctions an unbroken conveyor belt of death for the annual killing of hundreds of millions of fish and aquatic animals from three states. As a journalist long trying to explain Massachusetts’s abandonment and devastation of the life in this New England-wide ecosystem for decades I’m at a loss to encapsulate the horror that is Northfield. But Shayla Freeland, a young writer from Gill, wrote perhaps the most succinct summation of the effects of that machine on the river’s life. In an op-ed in the Greenfield Recorder on Nov. 20, 2021, she wrote: “The turbines of the pump station suck in life and throw out death.”

That is what’s been agreed to. It sums up the dishonor of these AWOL agencies for a half century and counting. They’ve now inked the “Sale Pending” death certificate for a once living river. The Conte National Fish & Wildlife Refuge is a deathtrap here; talk of a National Blueway is pure fluff. The Connecticut River in Massachusetts is “under agreement” and primed for its final sale, to Canada, cheap. In that AIP, it will be 2030 and 2033 by the time the experimental safe fish passage changes — legally mandated on the Connecticut River since 1872 (one hundred years before Northfield was built), are installed to maybe quiet a tiny corner of this machine’s ongoing carnage.

The bureaucrats signing this AIP and ultimate license will likely have walked into retirement when these band-aid protections are added. They should be remembered. Signing on as AIP proxy for US Fish & Wildlife Service Region 5 director Wendi Weber was Audrey Mayer. Dr. Caleb Slater, MA Division of Fisheries and Wildlife Director Hatcheries, signed in for Director Mark Tisa. Mr. Jesse Leddick signed for himself as Chief of Regulatory Review for the MA Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program, and Christopher Boelke signed off for the National Marine Fisheries Service under boss Julie Crocker, ESA Fish, Ecosystems and Energy Branch Chief.

Northfield is a cash cow. It sucks massive amounts of energy from the grid to reproduce and sell back one third less, peak-priced energy back into the grid for Canadian profit. This energy wasting machine is unnecessary for day to day grid operation. Recent mega-grid failures and cyber attacks make even its usefulness as a few-hour emergency back-up questionable. The gross megawatts it squanders yearly sucking the river backwards could directly power the annual needs of many cities and towns up and down this Valley. Instead it will suck out a river’s soul.

On Saturday, April 2, from 11 am to 1 pm, there will be a stand-out on the Turners Falls Gill-Montague Bridge. Participants will be dressed in black in observance of a Day of Mourning for the Connecticut River. The public is welcome to participate.

Karl Meyer lives in Greenfield. He’s been a stakeholder, intervener and a Fish and Aquatics Studies Team volunteer in this FERC licensing process since 2012. Meyer is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists.


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