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FERC Takes Balanced Approach on Housatonic River, Connecticut

Posted: 11/09/2001
by Tom Christopher

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the agency overseeing private
hydropower dams, recently initiated a flurry of activity for the relicensing of
two hydroelectric projects located on the Housatonic River. On October 10th the
FERC issued "Additional Information Requests" on the application submitted by
Northeast Generation Company (formerly Connecticut Light and Power) for their
hydropower facilities on the Housatonic River. On October 19th the FERC issued
their intent to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement for these relicense
proceedings. On October 23rd the FERC released the second scoping document for
this proceeding.

?The relicensing of the Housatonic hydro projects has now transitioned to the
FERC arena? stated John Gangemi, American Whitewater Conservation Director.
?Clearly, the FERC has taken a more balanced approach on resource issues in this
proceeding. Prior to this the Connecticut DEP has skewed instream flows for
angling interests at the expense of river restoration. The studies requested by
the FERC will enable stakeholders to make sound decisions based on objective
information.?

FERC?s prolific list of additional study requests, forty-three in total, is
indicative of a deficient license application from the utility. Before any
further decision can be made on Northeast Generation Company?s license
application, the information and additional studies requested by FERC must be
completed by the applicant. FERC also stated the application should include all
comments of the USF&W, EPA, National Park Service, American Whitewater, Trout
Unlimited, the Appalachian Mountain Club and others.

FERC wrote, "In order to assess the effects of the proposed flows on the visual
resources of the project area, please provide any narrated videotapes and other
supporting data of the whitewater flow studies at Falls Village and Bulls
Bridge. If videotapes are not available, please provide any videotapes of other
studies (fish habitat, instream flow analysis, etc.) that can be used to assess
minimum recreation flows in these reaches. Also, please consult with
appropriate stakeholders, including the AMC and the American Whitewater
Affiliation, regarding acceptable minimum recreation flows for whitewater
boating experiences and report these results to the Commission".

FERC continued,"Please quantify the economic costs and qualitative benefits of
whitewater activity based on a range of flows, including the proposed recreation
flow and release schedule contained in the license application and the release
flows contained in the Section 401 Water Quality Certificate. Please include in
the analysis the costs and benefits of whitewater boating as: (1) a flow of
2,300 cfs; (2) the flows based on the schedule of releases contained in the
license application; and (3) the flows required by the Water Quality
Certificate. This information is necessary to enable staff to evaluate the cost
versus benefits of the proposed operational changes which would enhance the
whitewater recreation opportunities but could reduce the project's power
generation benefits. Note that while the costs to implement such measures can
usually be quantified, the benefits often cannot. Thus the benefits typically
can be described qualitatively".

The difficulty presented to American Whitewater and other stakeholders concerned
with improving river flows for recreation came about as a direct failure of the
Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection to consider the balanced use
of the resource. Foolishly, the CDEP issued the 401 Water Quality Certificate
prior to all studies being completed, thereby playing right into the hands of
the utility. Their action advocated "run-of-river" operation and left all
bypass reaches in a degraded condition, clearly choosing to ignore the economic
benefits provided to the region by a well-established boating public.

FERC went on to request additional information on public access and a discussion
of how the proposed recreation facilities may add to or relieve congestion at
Bull's Bridge, and to assess the potential for development in the project area.
Other areas mentioned by FERC included the effects of flows in the bypassed
reaches and increased recreational use resulting from proposed enhancements on
the recreational, aesthetic and natural resources of the Appalachian Trail, with
an emphasis on facilities at Bull's Bridge.

While there is no guarantee boaters will be able to overcome the legal setback
of an inadequate and faulty 401 Certificate, it does provide an opportunity to
leverage the FERC requests into a full-fledged, unbiased flow study that,
hopefully, FERC will use as a tool in balancing use of the Housatonic resources
in a way that will enhance whitewater boating. What is encouraging is the
request for economic studies relative to the benefits of whitewater boating and
the impact of this activity on the local region. This is only the second time
FERC has requested this type of analysis in New England, the first being the
Kennebec River in western Maine a few months ago.

American Whitewater and its partners will continue to press for equal
consideration on this troubled project and will exert every effort to resurrect
and rescue this important resource from an ill-advised and devastating decision
made by a recalcitrant state resource agency. Contact us if you would like to
assist in this effort.