Federal regulators recently issued a new 46-year license for the Millville Dam on the Shenandoah River that includes a formal portage route sought by American Whitewater. The dam is just upstream of the popular Staircase section of the Shenandoah. Also included in the license is continued operation of several access areas up and downstream of the dam.
American Whitewater began working on the Project after the Harpers Ferry River Access Plan we helped produce highlighted the area as important for protected and enhanced river access. While preferred whitewater access areas are downstream, the Millville sites are an important fallback in case the preferred private sites close in the future. The Plan also highlighted portage needs by groups of paddlers travelling long lengths of this scenic and historically rich river.
During our research on the dam we learned that it loses an average of $346,762 annually, and that the small amount of inflexible power it generates costs almost twice its value to produce, costs 42% more than alternative power, and costs far more than wind or solar power. At the same time it dewaters 0.5 miles (38 acres) and inundates 1.08 miles (83 acres) of the Shenandoah River and blocks fish passage in the middle of a 125-mile section of an otherwise freeflowing river. To us, this dam is an ideal candidate for removal, and we requested that FERC consider removal. We were rebuffed however, as FERC leaves removal decisions up to the dam owner unless the dam's impacts are severe and impossible to mitigate. We hope the dam owner considers removal in the future for this dam that no longer makes sense in today's and tomorrow's energy market.
In the interim, paddlers can continue to enjoy the access areas near the dam and the new well-signed portage route on river left.