First, the good news!
A proposal for Whitewater Boating Releases and Recreation improvements has been agreed upon. How did this happen? We worked hard, with many community members and partners, to create and get a seat at the bargaining table. FirstLight Power listened. Together, we created some great recreational improvements – after negotiating strongly.
On February 28, FirstLight Power filed an initial agreement to address Whitewater Boating Releases and Recreation Improvements. (Click here for the detailed document).
Some great improvements have been proposed: an improved ADA-accessible dock at Northfield, the addition of trails on conserved land, mountain biking trails, camping sites, pocket parks, conservation of climbing ledges, new boat access on the Miller’s River at Cabot Camp and at Unity Park in Turners Falls, plus a few smaller improvements.
These would all be in place within 5 years of the license being reissued.
In addition to the recreation improvements, the whitewater boating releases will provide recreational whitewater flows for many weekends between July and October. CRC was not involved directly in the whitewater negotiations, but we do support it.
CRC has been a voice in bringing community needs for access to a healthy river to the negotiations table and we aren’t done yet!
And now, the not-so-good news.
CRC simply cannot support the proposed initial agreements on two crucial topics: fish passage and river flows. FirstLight Power filed these proposals on March 18 (Click here for the detailed document).
There are some good changes being proposed in these agreements.
We do support changes in water flow at the Cabot generating station, which will offer some improvement in river health below the power canal. We also support the new releases of water at the Turners Falls Dam during the fish migration season.
So what’s wrong?
- FirstLight Power is proposing unnecessarily lengthy timeframes to install fish passage projects and a barrier net at Northfield Mountain.
- Nothing has been agreed upon to address impacts from Northfield Mountain beyond a minimally helpful barrier net and a fund for remedying impacts to fish eggs. In fact, this agreement allows FirstLight to use a larger operating range in the upper reservoir which will increase negative impacts on flow, fish habitat and passage, and erosion.
- There is nothing in place to prevent FirstLight Power from dewatering parts of Barton Cove. Last summer, excessive pumping at Northfield Mountain left boats stranded.
- Simply put, the flow is too low. To meet the baseline of water quality standards, water flow needs to be increased in summer, fall, and winter from the Turners Falls dam to support healthy aquatic life and through-paddling in the river.
Here is what we know: the now years-long delay in the relicensing process and in the negotiation of agreements are no good for the river, the fish, the watershed, or the community. The delay has been good in one notable way: in helping FirstLight Power generate more money with limited accountability.
A few things to keep in mind:
- No one owns the river.
- First Light Power is an important community partner.
- Local, state, and federal folks are working hard to ensure a smart, equitable, and sustainable relicensing process.
- FirstLight Power can afford to do this work – as soon as the plans are designed and permitted in the relicensing process. The profits FirstLight Power has generated in these staggering delays can be applied to offset the revenue impacts of the changes proposed for a healthy river and watershed. FirstLight Power’s owner is PSP Investments, a multi-national, sophisticated investment firm cognizant of anticipated costs for healthy use of resources – and of utilizing delay tactics for their benefit.
FirstLight Power has indicated that it will file a final, comprehensive proposed relicensing agreement this summer. The federal agency that will evaluate the proposal (the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC) will likely hold off on its next step until after that agreement proposal is filed. It is after that stage that the state will be involved in evaluating the relicensing agreement.
This time-consuming process is long past time for resolution. Our voices – your voice – will make a difference in achieving healthy, equitable, and clean relicensing guidelines. What does that mean? Scroll down for how to stay involved.