The good news first!
You may recall from our last update that FirstLight Power has filed settlement agreements to address recreation, fish passage, and river flows.
Some of the new recreation improvements that we are excited about include 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, and a walkable portage around the Turners Falls dam. These would all be in place within 5 years of the license being re-issued.
In addition to the recreation improvements, 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 bringing community needs for access to a healthy river to the negotiations table, and we aren’t done yet! These improvements happened because CRC and other stakeholders pushed FirstLight Power to the table. This collaborative work demonstrates again that public engagement gets results!
These agreements have proposed some good changes in how river flows will occur to better support migratory fish and minimize impacts to other critters that live in the river and around the riverbanks. But that’s not nearly good enough…
Because there is also not-good news:
FirstLight Power is proposing unnecessarily lengthy timeframes to install a barrier net at Northfield Mountain and fish passage projects.
Waiting until 2033 for a new fish lift is too long!
NOTHING has been agreed upon to address impacts from Northfield Mountain beyond a minimally helpful barrier net (not to be operational until 2031!) and a payout to mitigate for the decades of impacts to young fish.
In fact, this agreement allows FirstLight to use a larger operating range in the upper reservoir which will increase negative impacts on erosion and fish habitat.
There is nothing in place to prevent FirstLight from dewatering parts of Barton Cove. Last summer, excessive pumping at Northfield Mountain left boats stranded.
And last but not least, the flow in the river for most of the year is still too low to meet state water quality standards and support healthy aquatic life and recreation in the river.
These shortcomings mean that any license issued will be in violation of the Clean Water Act. We brought our concerns to the MA Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs and we filed this correspondence with FERC, urging them to move the process forward. You can read our letters and the response from FirstLight here.
Here is what we know: The now years-long delay in the relicensing process and in the negotiation of agreements are not good enough for the river, the fish, the watershed, and the community. However, the delay has been “good for business” in one notable way: in helping FirstLight Power generate more money with limited accountability.
A few things to keep in mind:
- The river is a public resource and is vital to all of us.
- 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 and the profits they have generated in these staggering delays can offset any revenue impacts of 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.
With their update to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), FirstLight Power has won yet another delay by indicating that it will file a final, comprehensive settlement agreement by December 2022. Although we want it to happen now, FERC will likely wait until after that settlement agreement to issue its formal “REA” (Ready for Environmental Analysis) document, which establishes the next set of relicensing deadlines. Once the “REA” is issued, the state will be involved in evaluating the application and settlement agreements (through the 401-water quality certificate).
This time-consuming process is long overdue for resolution. Our voices – your voice – will make a difference in a healthy and flourishing river. What does that mean? Scroll down for how to stay involved.