FERC Supports Paddling On Ausable! (NY)
Yesterday, the Federal Energy
Regulatory Commission (FERC) released its Environmental Assessment (EA) of boating on the Ausable
Chasm. The EA marks a critical milestone in American Whitewater’s decade-long effort
to secure paddling access to the beautiful Class IV Ausable Chasm, which is boatable nearly every
day of the year. Access is currently blocked by New York State Electric and Gas (NYSEG) and
NYSEG's proposal was to continue this total prohibition on paddling for the next 30
FERC received nearly 100 comments in support of boating (thanks paddlers!), including detailed comments from American Whitewater. They also received comments from Trout Unlimited, NYSEG, and a private riparian owner asking FERC to limit or ban public boating access. The US Fish and Wildlife Service commented that no environmental impacts would be expected from allowing paddling. In addition to public comments, FERC relied heavily on previous environmental analysis on the project, a recreation study and FERC policy – which are all totally in support of paddling. FERC found that:
· The Ausable Chasm is a high quality whitewater run
· NYSEG has an obligation to allow paddling
· There is demand for paddling
· Search and rescue concerns should not limit paddling access
· Paddling would not conflict with other users in the area
· The Ausable Chasm is no more risky than other Class IV rivers
· Paddling will not impact neighboring businesses
· Paddling access can be provided at a reasonable cost
· Trespass is not required to paddle and is a State issue
Based on these findings FERC finds that year-round daily access to the Ausable Chasm is justified. FERC requires that NYSEG consult with interested parties to develop a plan for signage, trash receptacles, temporary restrooms, a boat launch platform, an onsite gage, a parking area and appropriate fencing. This is GREAT NEWS! Having worked on this issue for a decade, we are heartened that FERC has made a rational and legal decision that is consistent with the facts and FERC policy.
FERC has an open comment period on the EA until May 27th. After this date NYSEG will be given 2-3 months to submit their final access plan, and possibly several more months to fully implement it. Unfortunately, these steps may allow NYSEG to prohibit access well into the fall. FERC requested and NYSEG provided an Interim Access Plan, however FERC has not yet required NYSEG to implement the plan this summer.
AW will be filing comments
that 1) fully support the findings of FERC’s EA, and 2) request that the Interim Access
Plan be required immediately. The interim access plan as proposed would allow weekend paddling to
occur using existing access until enhancements are made. We hope that FERC will grant
interim paddler access promptly following the May 27th comment deadline.
We recommend that paddlers wishing to run the Ausable this year send FERC a letter thanking them for a great analysis and recommendation and asking for an interim access solution. A rough template letter to FERC is attached for paddlers to use as a starting point, as is the FERC EA, in the document box to the right of this article.