Dam official address questions, local concerns
WESTMINSTER — Representatives with TransCanada Hydro Northeast Inc. — now Great River Hydro (GRH), LLC — reviewed the company’s Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) relicensing status at a Community Governmental Outreach meeting on Thursday, April 20, and addressed questions and concerns from citizens and officials of several nearby towns.
About 14 people attended the meeting at the Westminster Institute, including selectmen, trustees, conservation commission representatives, local and regional planning and emergency management officials, and other citizens.
John Ragonese, the company’s FERC licensing manager, announced at the meeting that as of midnight on Wednesday, April 19, the company had transitioned from TransCanada to GRH.
“We’ve only been at it for 12 hours … So far, so good,” Ragonese said.
Great River Hydro is a small, “hydro-centric” company, owned by stakeholders. The majority stakeholder is ArcLight Capital Partners, LLC, a Boston firm. The company consists of the 13 hydro projects that TransCanada operated, he said.
The only new person in the company is GRH President Scott Hall, who will live locally in Hanover and who has experience in licensing, hydro dam safety, and planning.
“He’s a hydro guy,” Ragonese said.
The company’s offices will remain in Westbrook, Massachusetts, according to Ragonese. All of the employees still have a job, he said.
Rockingham Selectboard Chair Lamont “Monte” Barnett, who attended the session, asked how the transition would affect tax-related legal cases that are currently underway in Rockingham, involving TransCanada.
All of TransCanada’s current hydro personnel, equipment, and support systems will be part of the new company, and all of TransCanada’s obligations, including legal, are GRH’s obligations now, Ragonese said. The transition will also not affect the relicensing, he said.
“They said ‘We understand where you are in the process, just keep doing what you’re doing,’” he said.
The meeting was one of three local FERC informational sessions this week for the hydro company. The purpose of the meetings was to “broaden the knowledge of the community,” and to share updates and collect feedback on local concerns regarding hydro dam operations at the Wilder, Bellows Falls and Vernon projects, he said.
Locally, those concerns have been mainly focused on recreational activities along the Connecticut River, such as camping opportunities at Herrick’s Cove, and how the rise and fall of the river under dam operations may affect erosion, according to several audience members.
In Charlestown, “erosion is a big concern,” said Town Administrator David Edkins. “We just want to make sure it is thoroughly addressed in the studies.”
Chris Campany, executive director of Windham Regional Commission, suggested local communities look into a “common issue platform” that they can share with GRH to express any concerns or interests, such as recreation, in New Hampshire and Vermont local towns on the river.
Ragonese explained in detail the steps that TransCanada has taken to prepare for the relicensing, which takes place approximately every 30 years and is a 5-year process. The new relicensing applications are due in 2019, and must be submitted by May 1, 2017, two years prior to that deadline, he said.
The company has completed more than 250 study requests on elements such as environmental impact, fish passage, and recreation, eventually consolidating them into a proposed study plan.
TransCanada also recently completed a detailed in-stream flow study to evaluate flow and operations and how they affect aquatic habitat, he said. FERC will make the determination, after reviewing the applications and all study materials, if the application will need to be revised before the final deadline.
Revision is likely, Ragonese said. The state agencies that oversee water quality have already been “at the table” and involved in the process, he added.
Feedback and suggestions from local stakeholders is important, such as regarding recreational aspects of the waterway, he said.
“I want to understand what their needs are, and I want them to understand how the process works,” Ragonese said.
After the company releases a draft of the completed studies and materials, a comment period of about 60 days takes place to answer questions and respond to comments, and then FERC will make a determination as to how to proceed.