5-Town Selectboard Meetin Minutes – 1/28/22

These minutes are, as yet, unapproved but might make interesting weekend reading. – Lil

Five Town Selectboard Zoom Meeting

Friday, January 28, 2022

Present:  Cheryl Mayberry (Facilitator), Steve Delessio, Peggy Pschirrer, Walpole; Jeremy Wood, Nancy Houghton, William Rescsanski, Charlestown; Devin Gallagher, Langdon; Joel McCarty (Alstead); Kara Dexter (Zoom Host), Jean Kobeski (Recording Secretary)

Visitor: James McClammer (Charlestown)

This meeting was being recorded.

Cheryl Mayberry called the meeting to order at 4:30 p.m. and took roll call attendance. 

Shortly thereafter the meeting was hacked and ended.  After approximately twenty minutes, the meeting reconvened and all but Joel McCarty returned.

Great River Hydro Relicensing:  James McClammer

Mr. McClammer, a member of the Connecticut River Joint Commission and Relicensing Work Group, introduced himself and stated he wanted to give the towns an update on the dams on the Connecticut in our area and where we are in the relicensing process. He also wanted to convey the recommendations made by the Connecticut River Joint Commission (CRJC) to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) regarding the relicensing process.  

Mr. McClammer gave a summary of his background, then explained that he is now primarily an environmental consultant, mostly on wetland issues. He was appointed by Governor John Lynch to the CRJC ten years ago.

Mr. McClammer stated that the information he was giving was his opinion, because he is not authorized to speak for the CRJC. 

He explained that Great River Hydro owns three dams on the Connecticut River:  Wilder, Vernon, Bellows Falls. All are going through relicensing.  FERC has grouped these dams with two in Massachusetts, also being relicensed, due to cumulative impacts – impact on the aquatic environment.  He said there are other issues involved. For example, Great River Hydro bought the three dams from Trans Canada, a utility.  He stated Great River Hydro is an investment company, which means it wants to maximize profits.  

Where are they now in the process?  Mr. McClammer stated they are waiting for FERC and Great River Hydro to indicate that the application they are going to propose is ready for environmental analysis. He wonders if they are getting accurate information from Great River Hydro; he believes their studies are inconclusive.  As far as erosion along the river is concerned, Great River Hydro said it is caused primarily by periodic flooding, not the operation of the dams.  Mr. McClammer believes it is caused primarily by ramping (raising and lowering the water level) to generate electricity. In other words, erosion is exacerbated by operations of the dams. He stated Great River Hydro has agreed to operate the dams by eliminating ramping.  That will create a steady flow of water through the turbines. They do not know what effect the same water level on the banks will have.

Mr. McClammer said that Great River Hydro states there is a “cycle of erosion.”  It begins, maybe in part, due to ramping but also flooding caused by the sheer force of the river. 

Ms. Houghton asked Mr. McClammer to address the relicensing and revenue sharing aspect of the project. Then Mr. Rescsanski said it is his understanding that FERC approves or denies relicensing and the only thing in the way is the Department of Environmental Services (DES). Mr. McClammer said the DES is restricted to offering water quality certifications. 

Mr. McClammer expressed disappointment with the way Great River Hydro has proceeded with discussions of the dam operations. Instead of opening discussions to all interested parties, they have restricted them to a small group of agencies. This small group has created a Right of the River Operations Model.  He reiterated that they are now waiting for the application to be submitted to determine environmental impacts so that compensatory mitigations, both environmental and human, can be planned.

Mr. McClammer stated that the Connecticut River is a public resource held in trust by the State for the people.  The people do not get much say in the process, much less compensation for the use of the river.  He suggested that the dam owners establish a Mitigation and Enhancement Fund. 

Mr. Rescsanski asked which agency is requiring the environmental impact study.  The Feds require a study of impact on natural and human environments. Then compensatory mitigations will be determined to address those impacts. FERC mandates that these studies be done.

Ms. Mayberry shared her concerns about the erosion, particularly in North Walpole. She said that, until the application is submitted, there isn’t much we can do.  We can look at it and try to assess what the impact to our communities will be. Mr. McClammer partially agreed with her. He said they need to be proactive and suggested they coalesce the legislative bodies of the towns to push profit sharing with Great River Hydro. He said the river is a public resource used by a for-profit agency (Great River Hydro) to make money.  Why shouldn’t they share the revenues?

Steve Dalessio said profit sharing could be contradictory to what you want to accomplish. You want to create an environmentally sound river.  Would you trade off mitigation to get a piece of the pie? Mr. McClammer said this idea of revenue sharing should be divorced from compensating for the environmental impacts. It is for the use of public trust resources to identify restoration projects (could be river restoration). Mr. Dalessio said he would be interested in revenue sharing if the money could be used for any river or stream project, not necessarily the Connecticut.  Ms. Mayberry stated there would probably not be restrictions on the use of that money unless it was deemed a mitigation fund. She thanked Mr. McClammer for making the distinction between profit-sharing and mitigation.

Ms. Mayberry stated she is concerned about people who have had to relocate due to repeated flooding.  Perhaps some of the money could be used to help them.

In summary, Mr. McClammer stressed two points from his presentation:

​1.  Insist on a Mitigation and Enhancement Fund.

​2.  Consider moving forward with unrestricted revenue sharing.

Mr. Rescsanski asked if they should be contacting Jeanne Shaheen or someone at the federal level. Ms Mayberry asked if there is anything else they should do.  Mr. McClammer said they could always address comments to FERC. He also suggested contacting the state legislature to discuss these ideas. 

Ms Mayberry thanked Mr. McClammer for his presentation. He concluded by saying that the only way to get things done is for the towns to work together.

Other Business:  Ms Mayberry asked who could host the next meeting and set the agenda.  She said Walpole could continue hosting, but she felt all the towns should help set the agenda.  Charlestown offered to host the next meeting and set the agenda.  Mrs. Kobeski asked if they would provide a recording secretary, or would they want her to take notes and do the minutes. They said they would get back to her.  

Ms. Mayberry asked Mrs. Kobeski to prepare a contact list for each town’s select board members, including email and phone number.

Mr. Dalessio moved to adjourn the meeting; Mrs. Pschirrer seconded, and all voted in favor.  Ms Mayberry adjourned the meeting at 5:55 p.m.

The next meeting will be Friday, April 29, 2022, at 4:30 p.m. Location TBD.

Respectfully Submitted,

Jean Kobeski, Recording Secretary

*** These minutes are in draft form until approved at the April 29, 2022 meeting.

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