Thank you to the several stakeholders who worked to collaborate on these comments, including the Deerfield River Watershed Association as well as the Town of Shelburne and Town of Buckland.
To: Central Rivers Power MA, LLC
Attn: Skip Medford, Patriot Hydro, LLC, Manager Stakeholder Relations, 670 N. Commercial Street, Suite 204, Manchester, NH 03101 email@example.com
From: Deerfield River Watershed Association firstname.lastname@example.org ; Town of Shelburne; Town of Buckland; and the Connecticut River Conservancy)
Subject: Stakeholder Review of the DRAFT – REVISED RECREATION MANAGEMENT PLAN (03/20/2023 version), for the Gardner Falls Hydroelectric Project, FERC No. 2334
Date: April 18, 2023
The Deerfield River Watershed Association (DRWA) and the Connecticut River Conservancy (CRC) thank you for the opportunity to meet with you and discuss potential revisions to the DRAFT Recreation Management Plan (RMP) for the Gardner Falls Project. We believe that meeting to discuss options and resolve issues can best be done upfront, prior to filing it with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).
We acknowledge that the company has made an effort to re-install some of the amenities that had fallen into disrepair or had gone missing in recent years, such as project signage and trail signage on the Buckland side, repaired picnic tables, trail bridges, and installation of a porta-potty.
We see the recreation component of the Gardner Falls Project as a substantial asset to the local area. For example, the number one issue raised by the recent Town of Shelburne Open Space and Recreation survey (conducted late 2022 and early 2023) was the need for increased access to the Deerfield River. Public recreational use appears to have increased on Central Rivers Power (CRP) property, on both the Shelburne and Buckland sides of the river in the last several years. However, CRP proposes to reduce their commitment to recreation and we seek to ensure that any proposed reduction in access and recreational values are mitigated.
Since your project area and its recreation components fall within the Town of Shelburne, MA and the Town of Buckland, MA, they are requesting you add them as stakeholders and informed of future plans, actions, and monitoring at the site. To save time, the enclosed review of your draft plan also includes comments reflecting those of the Town of Shelburne and hopefully, after their Selectboard meeting on Tuesday, the Town of Buckland.
Both the Buckland and Shelburne sides of Shelburne Falls meet the income definition of an environmental justice community. The recreation facilities on the Buckland side are one of the few remaining public access areas to the Deerfield River that is walkable and bikeable from the Shelburne Falls village.
Increased Recreation Demand vs CRP’s Proposal to Reduce Recreation Access and Resources
We understand CRP’s reasoning for closing vehicular access along the power canal road to the powerhouse and to close the loop trail where it crosses the tailrace on the Buckland side of the Deerfield River. We prefer the access road to the powerhouse not be closed, but instead CRP take measures to protect their important infrastructure at the powerhouse by other means. We also prefer that that connecting “loop” in the loop trail be maintained, but perhaps at a different location.
Our concern is that at a time of increasing recreational demand, CRP proposes to reduce recreational access and resources at the Gardner Falls site, including gating the powerhouse access road and closing the connecting loop in the loop trail. Gating the powerhouse access road at the dam would result in the loss of parking for approximately ten or more vehicles at the powerhouse and more at pull-offs along the powerhouse access road. This would leave only space for 5 vehicles to park (at the dam), down from the 15 or more spaces that were previously available. We understand that on certain occasions, all parking along the dam, power canal road, and powerhouse can be occupied with vehicles, so parking is at a premium. A gate at the dam would block easy vehicular access to the Deerfield River bypass reach (dryway) on the Buckland side of the river for fishing, sunbathing, and swimming. River users that could find parking upstream of the locked gate (approximately 12 spaces at the picnic area) would now have to walk a substantial distance to get to the dam and then even farther to access the river along the bypass reach to the powerhouse. As proposed, the original permitted loop hiking trail would become two, separate, dead-end trails, at a substantial loss in recreational value over that offered by a true loop trail.
To help mitigate the loss of important recreational access and resources, CRP proposes mitigation; however, we believe the proposed mitigation is inadequate and would still result in a substantial net loss in recreation access, parking, and values, and so we propose the following new mitigation and changes to your March 30, 2023, DRAFT RMP. We believe our recommendations will at least partially to help reduce, avoid, or compensate for the loss of recreation access, parking, and values.
Compliance with the existing RMP: There is a significant construction backlog of previously FERC-approved projects at the site dating back over 20 years. For example, the 2001, FERC-approved 70’ x 75’ gravel parking area in Wilcox Hollow, on the Shelburne side of the river, is referred to by CRP in Table 3.2 as “Constructed,” but it was never constructed. The parking area remains to be constructed, and is necessary for accommodating the readily apparent increased use seen on the Wilcox Hollow side of the river. The Nature Trail, on the Buckland side of the river, receives little mention in the 2023 draft and several of its components were never fully implemented as planned in the 1998 RMP.
Please feel free to contact us for further discussion or elaboration. We are happy to work with you as you finalize your RMP submission to FERC, and in further recreation management activities now and in the future.
Addressing Changes in Recreational Use
2.0 PROJECT DESCRIPTION
We request that the Draft RMP Project Description be updated for 2023 according to the recommendations below.
Page 2: Paragraph 2
Recreation uses and types have greatly increased at the site. No longer is sport fishing the primary day-use, but instead there are increases in many day-uses worthy of mentioning. We recommend the following edits (in bold) as new for 2023, or a reference to the increased recreation users and types and types of recreation seen at the project area.
Article 406 of the Gardners Falls Project’s license describes the requirements and need for recreation features at the Gardners Falls Project. A primary concern of recreational users in the region has been convenient access to the Deerfield River, which Gardners Falls Project lands span. The Gardners Falls Project recreational facilities are designed and intended for day-use only, with a primary uses of sport fishing, walking/jogging for exercise, sunbathing, boating, swimming, and dog walking. Two areas of recreation access at the Gardners Falls Project were planned and implemented in the 2001 RMP:
Paragraph 2, last sentence states that: “Two areas of recreation access at the Gardners Falls Project were planned and implemented in the 2001 RMP.” That is not correct. The 2001 proposed new, 70’ x 75’ Wilcox Hollow Gravel parking area, with the 20’ wide driveway leading from the road to the parking area, was never constructed. The existing parking area does not have a gravel surface and is significantly smaller than what was committed to in 2001.
Page 2: Paragraph 3 Wilcox Hollow, Shelburne
The paragraph beginning “Wilcox Hollow, Shelburne” states, “Construction of a new parking area;” Construction of the parking area never occurred.
Page 2: Paragraph 3 Wilcox Hollow, Shelburne (We recommend adding the updated text in bold.)
(use for hiking, fishing, swimming, sunbathing, and launching of canoes, kayaks, and handcarried boats)
Page 2: Paragraph 4 Powerhouse Access areas, Buckland (We recommend adding the updated text in bold.)
(use for fishing, walking/jogging, swimming, sunbathing, and hand-carried boats)
Page 2: Paragraph 4 Powerhouse Access areas, Buckland
CRP states: “One porta-potty toilet at the picnic area;” It should be noted in the text that this is a replacement for the two previously existing pit toilets.
3.1 Existing Project Recreation Sites and Facilities
We assume that the monitoring required under 4.2, may determine that additional tables may be warranted in the future and we request that the monitoring methodology and results be shared with stakeholders, along with a specified date of completion. We recommend a new Table 3.3, include maintenance tracking including the condition of facilities (like an audit). The table should also include dates of the last monitoring of the sites and maintenance activities. Tables 3.1 and 3.2 should also note those facilities that were never fully completed or initiated; and those facilities and tasks that were identified in the 2001 RMP, but were not carried forward into the 2023 Draft RMP. A commitment should be made in this RMP to complete the uncompleted projects with a schedule of implementation and benchmarks to measure progress; this schedule should be shared with stakeholders.
Table 3.1 Public Recreation Sites at the Gardners Falls Project.
- “parking area for approximately 10 vehicles.” (The table should acknowledge that this parking lot, committed to in 2001, and its layout included on a design plan sheet, was never constructed, but will be constructed by CRP by an identified date.)
Powerhouse Access Areas
- “One porta-potty toilet at the picnic area;” Should also indicate: (to replace two previous pit toilets)
- “Loop trail and descriptive signage beginning at the head-of-canal;” (The table should clarify that the power canal trail and the nature trail will both remain, but CRP proposes closing the loop connection across the tailrace, resulting in two, dead-end trails.)
- Missing From the Table: A reference to the Self-guiding Nature Trail, signage, trail map and brochure, and location markers along the trail to note significant resources and explain how the site is used to generate electricity.
Table 3.2 Recreation Facilities and Amenities for the Gardners Falls Project.
Wilcox Hollow; Parking Area; Amenity Status (we recommend changing “Constructed” to: “Never Constructed, but will be constructed by CRP” by an identified date.)
Missing From the Table: Powerhouse Access Areas; A reference to the: Self-guiding Nature Trail, signage, trail map and brochure, and location markers along the trail to note significant resources and explain how the site is used to generate electricity; as stated in the 1998 approved Recreation Management Plan. We request this addition, along with a schedule of completion.
Page 9, Wilcox Hollow, Description of Facilities:
The paragraph states: There is parking for approximately ten (10) vehicles without trailers. It is apparent there is not parking for approximately (10) vehicles, as the parking area was never constructed in accordance with the FERC-approved specifications. We recommend making the correction of replacing “(10)” with “several” vehicles.
Page 11, Powerhouse Access Areas, Description of Facilities:
The paragraph states: The licensee has arranged for a porta-potty to be located at the site in recent years. We recommend adding clarification text to the sentence at the end, “to replace two previously existing pit toilets.”
Proposed Changes from the 2001 RMP to the 2023 RMP
See: 4.1 Project Recreation Site Management and Maintenance
We recommend CRP develop a Construction, Maintenance, and Monitoring Table to track and report to the stakeholders and public the status of recreation features CRP is committed to constructing and maintaining, including all commitments made in the 1998, 2001, and 2023 RMPs. We appreciate CRP’s recent Spring 2023 maintenance activity, but encourage additional maintenance, such as adding to or replacing the stair railing on this steep set of stairs north of the picnic area with a smooth, splinter-free, code compliant handrailing; adding two more stairs at the bottom of the stairway; repairing bridges and walkways; drying out and graveling or rocking the area in front of the Nature Trail to create addition year-round parking, leveling the sloping picnic table, constructing the Wilcox Hollow parking area; finishing the unfinished components of the Nature Trail; development of an off-site handicap fishing area, etc…
- Removal of Charcoal Grills …
- We do not see a problem with the proposal to remove the charcoal grills due to Central Rivers Power’s report of vandalism, usage changes over time, and for other site-specific safety reasons that are evident.
- There has been a history of picnic tables at the picnic area. If Central Rivers Power “installed” two picnic tables, they were replacements for or repairs to existing tables that had rotted. Two tables may be sufficient. We assume that the monitoring required under 4.2 and consultation with the public and stakeholders, may determine that additional tables may be warranted in the future.
- Move the Porta-potty to the picnic area…
- We do not see a problem with placing a porta-potty at the picnic area to take the place of the previously existing pit toilets. However, also having a porta-potty for the users along the bypass reach/power canal or at the powerhouse would be appropriate as it is a very long walk back from the powerhouse fishing area to the picnic area porta-potty. This is both a sanitation problem and a convenience problem. Since the road is now gated; we would expect less, or no vandalism of the porta-potty placed beyond the gate. Still, vandalism is a risk and should not be used as a rationale for reducing mitigation commitments when there are viable mitigation options available. In accordance with previous restroom practices at the site, we ask you to provide two porta-potties, one at the picnic area and one closer to the angling, sunbathers, and swimmers along the power canal access road, or perhaps once again at the powerhouse where there is a history of a porta-potty and pit toilets before that.
- Closing the power canal road and powerhouse parking…
- Closing the access road would result in a substantial loss or recreational resources. If the access road is to be closed, at a minimum, we request the CRP report annually on incidents of vandalism and, depending on those reports, restore vehicular passage at times when the powerplant is staffed by the maintenance and construction crew and public use can be more closely monitored.
- Due to the cramped space in the valley, it is not possible to fully mitigate CRP’s proposal to close and gate the access road along the power canal to public vehicular traffic and parking. Gating the power canal access road eliminates easy vehicular access to the full length of the river bypass reach for river recreation. Gating the road also eliminates the substantial parking that was available along the power canal access road and at the powerhouse. We strongly disagree with the statement: “ … Parking provided at the boat launch area and the picnic area are sufficient to meet demand for this site.” We would like to see public use data showing how the existing parking for 5 vehicles close to the dam and 12 vehicles much farther back up the road at the picnic area, will satisfy the loss of parking for the many vehicles that formerly parked along the power canal road and at the powerhouse, and meet the public’s need for relatively easy river access. It is our observation that recreational use has increased and diversified over the years and the proposed reduction in available parking, if it becomes permanent, should be mitigated with the creation of other opportunities for parking.
- For example, partial mitigation for the loss of parking could include incorporating into the RMP text a commitment for CRP to maintain existing pedestrian trail access across its property and the creek to the north of the picnic area. That trail currently connects to existing private trails that tie into the village of Shelburne Falls where there is the potential for additional overflow parking in the village. This would allow people to walk from the village, where there is more parking availability, to the Gardner Falls recreation area, where CRP proposes decreased parking availability. The stair and bridge access to the reservoir are also used by the Shelburne Falls Water Resource and Recovery Facility for baseline water quality monitoring above the waste treatment plant outfall. Wording for your consideration is provided in bold, below.
- A foot access trail will be maintained in good repair to connect the Central Rivers Power picnic area with the existing Buckland trail system, which leads into the village of Shelburne Falls. This would include maintenance of the trail on Central Rivers Power property north of the picnic area including the stairs, a smooth handrail designed to meet building code, and the footbridge and its railings.
- Central Rivers Power has closed the power canal access road with a cable gate. Cable gates are very difficult to see and as a result can be quite dangerous. We recommend that the cable gate be removed and a high-visibility, metal gate be installed at this location that would allow a pedestrian walk-around.
- The existing cable gate on the power canal access road will be replaced with a high-visibility, solid or tubular, metal gate allowing pedestrian access.
- Parking is limited at the dam. Parking could be created for two or three additional vehicles by reconstructing the area at the head of the Nature Trail to prevent the parking area from becoming muddy during the spring snowmelt and rain events.
- Parking will be improved to provide all-weather, year-round parking for two to three additional vehicles at the entrance to the Nature Trail.
- Closing the Loop Trail connection at the tailrace…
- A loop trail is far more useful to the public than the proposed two, dead-end trails that would result from permanently closing the tailrace trail crossing. To maintain the “loop” we would support the placement of a bridge across the power canal just upstream of the powerhouse at the narrow spot, or opening up and using an existing crossing on the headrace/forebay side of the powerhouse. If the forebay option was selected, we would recommend security fencing to help safely channel the public from the Nature Trail to the power canal road, thus completing a loop trail.
- The loop trail will be rerouted by moving the connection point between the two trails from the tailrace area to a crossing at the headrace/forebay through a security-fenced walkway area along the powerhouse; connecting both trails. The crossing point will be signed as a trail on both ends.
- The Nature Trail, required in the existing FERC permit, was never finished. CRP should commit to completing the FERC-required tasks of finalizing the Self-guiding Nature Trail by creating the required trail signage at the beginning and along the trail, the trail map and brochure, and the installing location markers along the trail to note significant resource and explain how the site is used to generate electricity. We request that the map and brochure be made available at the site and developed in consultation with local tribal groups and representatives, and in English and Spanish.
- The existing Nature Trail would benefit from some trail and structure maintenance, including making the footbridge horizontal and attaching new, and stronger railings.
- The Nature Trail footbridge will be made horizontal and repaired.
- The first 100 feet of the Nature Trail immediately above the power canal will be improved so that the trail is dry, stable, wide enough to safely walk, and does not slope excessively toward the power canal.
- Sagging, weak, or damaged bridges, railings, and walkways will be repaired, as required maintenance.
- Provide Alternate River Access…
- Proposed New River Access – We agree with the proposal to clear a short foot trail to the river from the former powerhouse parking area. This appears to be a very simple and inexpensive project, but does not fully mitigate the loss of the “loop,” in the loop trail. We would be happy to help you flag a low maintenance route through the riparian area in order to reduce surface impacts. Following clearing and construction of the proposed trail, please provide a “River Access” sign at this location, or similar wording, directing the public to this trail.
- Additional River Access Needs – Closing the power canal access road and the powerhouse parking area would now create a very long walk for fully loaded anglers trying to get to the new river access trail. This would result in decreased fishing use and recreational opportunity. Also, anglers have been climbing down the tall, stone wall to access the flat rocks near the tailwaters of the dam. Climbing down the stone wall to the tailwaters of the dam is very dangerous, especially for loaded anglers. We recommend that an additional, closer, safer access to the river be developed within view of the locked gate, farther from the tailwaters of the dam, but not as far as the power house. There is an existing, eroded, but unsigned and not very visible access path about 100 feet before you come to the power canal overflow bridge. We recommend turning this into an official place to access the flat rocks along the river bypass reach and use signs to lure angers to this location from the locked gate. It would also move anglers farther from the dam’s tailwaters.
- An existing river access route will be improved to create a new bypass reach access trail in order to control erosion, improve walkability, and signed as “River Access,” or similar wording, so that it is easily identifiable to anglers who would normally climb down the steep wall to the tailwaters of the dam. The existing, very short route to the river bypass reach rocks is located on the bank of the power canal access road, about 100 feet before you get to the power canal overflow bridge, and ties to the relatively flat rocks along the river bypass reach, below, where users can then wander on the rocks below.
- Signage and Monitoring…
- CRP is proposing to revise the Part 8 signs to depict the proposed changes. We request that these signs be made available in English and in Spanish, or that the signs include a QR code that provides multi-lingual translation.
- The revised RMP states, “The Licensee will update the Gardners Falls Project RMP to include the results of the recreation use monitoring, and to make any proposed changes to the Gardners Falls Project recreation sites that use monitoring suggests are necessary to meet demand.” The RMP should include the proposed methodology, timeline, and tracking for this monitoring, as well as plans to consult with and disseminate the results to stakeholders.
- Wilcox Hollow – Parking Area…
- The parking area required in the 2001 FERC-approved permit was never initiated or completed. Due to our concerns about the proposed reduction in vehicle access to the river on the Buckland side and, therefore, access to the river, we would like to have an update on the 2001 RMP task to develop a 70′ x 75′ gravel parking area for 10 to 15 vehicles on the Shelburne side, in the field adjacent to the access road on Commonwealth of Massachusetts land, and as shown on the 2001 design plans.
- Wilcox Hollow – Access Road
- The access road to the river at Wilcox Hollow runs through lands owned by three entities – Central Rivers Power, MA Department of Conservation and Recreation, and Eversource. The road is steep and winding, and gets worn out and washed out regularly. It has often been in a washed-out condition that is hazardous for non-4×4 high clearance vehicles, and so limits the public’s ability to get to the river. Brush also overgrows onto the road and scratches vehicles that pass through. As you know, this has led to confusion about who is responsible for maintaining the road. We recommend that the RMP include a map showing the parcel boundaries along with the access road and the facilities at Wilcox Hollow. We also recommend that the RMP include an appendix with a signed Memorandum of Agreement regarding who is responsible for monitoring, how often the road will be checked, and who is responsible for maintaining the paved and gravel road, for the remainder of the license. Contact names or job positions, and contact information, should be included for each parcel owner.
- Wilcox Hollow – Universal Fishing Access Site within 20 miles…
- The 2001 RMP includes 12 unique tasks to be completed by the owners. Included in this under #9 is, “A wooden platform will be placed at the water’s edge to facilitate launching and takeout. The area will also be designed to accommodate access by disabled persons. A wheelchair accessible ramp will be provided from the access road to the launch structure.” It was ultimately decided that this could not be safely done in the project area due to high water levels. Instead, the 2001 FERC order approving the recreation plan states that the licensee will assist Massachusetts Department of Environmental Management (MDEM) in developing a universal fishing site within a 20-mile radius of the Wilcox Hollow site. This project is not included in Tables 3.1 and 3.2; we request that this project and its status be added to the tables. If this project has not been completed yet, we request that CRP prioritize ADA access along the Deerfield River and submit a plan for establishing such access.
- Hand-carry Boat Launch at Dam.
- Launch access at the dam for small, hand-carried boats, is somewhat difficult. There is a long cable across that access and to launch a boat, the boater has to either lower the boat under or over the cable or go around the cable stepping down a small ledge. It is recommended that CRP make the cable more visible and create a walkaround where boaters have easier access when carrying boats to the water.
The Deerfield River provides exceptional recreational opportunities for communities and visitors throughout western Massachusetts, and we appreciate the recreational amenities CRP provides at this site. As mitigation for the impact hydropower facilities have on access to a public trust resource, FERC licensees are obligated to offset their impact through recreational development. We are concerned that several of the commitments made in the 2001 RMP remain incomplete and that the 2023 RMP proposes to further reduce access. As CRP prepares a final draft of the 2023 RMP, we request that the company outline a plan (as described above) to complete all commitments made in their FERC license and carry forward the intent to provide recreational access for the diversity of people that seek out opportunities on the Deerfield River. Thank you for working with us and considering our recommendations on your draft proposal!
Jim Perry – President
Deerfield River Watershed Association
Ron Rhodes – Acting Director
Connecticut River Conservancy
Jim Perry –
Representative for the Town of Shelburne Open Space Committee,
As Designated by the Town of Shelburne Selectboard on 04/10/2023
(Town of Buckland Signature will be provided at a later date)
Town of Buckland