by Bruce Carpenter, New York Rivers United
The “Class of ’93″ hydro relicensing was one of the biggest in the United States: 43 separate dams. Yet, the projects that are currently up for relicensing are bigger still. They are bigger because of their generating capacity and because of the river ecosystems on which they are situated: the St. Lawrence FDR project and the Niagara Project, both of which are owned and operated by the New York Power Authority.
More than four years ago New York Rivers United began work on the FDR Project. Because of our expertise in hydro relicensing we were, as usual, representing many of our sister conservation organizations. We also have the ability to call on American Rivers, the nation’s leader in river protection. Our legal expertise comes from Richard Roos-Collins, senior attorney with the Natural Heritage Institute and co-author of “Rivers At Risk,” a handbook on hydro relicensing.
Our work on the “Class of ’93″ had given us new insights concerning how to work with both the applicants and the agencies involved. We had worked for ten years with the staff of New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) and the staff at the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). Both had done an excellent job in protecting our river resources. But the new method that we would undertake at FDR, a cooperative method under Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC’s) alternative process, would be ground-breaking.
The work that was done cooperatively or jointly by the hydro relicensing team at the FDR Project was: developing the issues; developing scope of studies for these issues; reviewing the study results and, finally, negotiation on enhancements and mitigation. It was hard work and very costly both for the company and for those who where participating. It required an extensive time commitment and an ability to understand all aspects of issues as they where developed and studied.
After four years of involvement, the process at FDR was bearing fruit. It seemed that we would have an environmental package, a recreational package and operational protocols that all parties could live with. This was done prior to an application being filed. Nothing ever goes perfectly. There was a breakdown with local community interests. The environmental package was conditioned upon the New York Power Authority settling, or at least negotiating in good faith with, the Native Americans. At the time of this article, both of those issues remain outstanding.
The one that we are most concerned with is the Native American package. The Department of Interior, and so the USFWS, has a trust responsibility with regards to the Native American issues. It cannot move forward with the settlement until the issue is addressed in a satisfactory way.
Millions of dollars in mitigation or enhancements are at stake. But there is little outside forces can do to move the issues forward. The parties themselves must come to some resolution. We remain committed to the process. We also have learned a great deal over the last fours years. It is unclear at this point whether the New York Power Authority will again enter into an alternative process or at least some form of it. New York Rivers United and American Rivers have had several meetings with company officials, state officials and United States Fish and Wildlife Service attempting to outline a course to follow. We are concerned that some issues may not be resolved using hydro relicensing. Because of this we will be doing the following:
1) Developing a comprehensive list of environmental and recreational issues. Of course, the company would normally do this in its Initial Consultation Document (ICD), and we are sure that they will for the Niagara Project.Our attempt is to speed the review process up. One, it will define these issues in our terms. Two, it will help unite the environmental community around these issues. Third, it will help us to prioritize these issues.
2) Hold an informational meeting, presenting our comprehensive list and enlisting support for our efforts to move forward in a united way. This meeting would be held in the project area. It would also serve the purpose of introducing all the parties. It would identify areas where training for local people on hydro relicensing is needed. It also would be an up-front effort on our part to move the relicensing forward in a cooperative manner.
The timetable for the above two items is not yet complete. We are currently reviewing proposals from consultants as to the scope and cost of the work to be performed. We hope to complete this phase in about one month and set the contractor to work shortly after. It is hoped that one of the tasks that would be completed is outreach to all the local groups, both for identification and for the development of issues.
With all the current talk of an energy crisis, with efforts underway to undermine the very laws that protect our river resources, this upcoming relicensing takes on even greater importance. Rivers are a public resource. Hydro projects impact rivers. They limit the public’s ability to enjoy these resources. The licenses are issued for 30 to 50 years, so this is an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
New York Rivers United urges all who may have a stake in this relicensing to get prepared. Contact us to ensure that you will be at the meeting. Begin the process of identifying issues related to project operations. We will be reaching out to you, but we may not know all the groups and people who may have a stake. Contact our office at (315) 339-2097 or on-line at firstname.lastname@example.org.