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Page last updated 02/23/23.
Although the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC*) is the overarching licensing authority for FirstLight's application for a Federal Power Act (hydro) license, FirstLight also must apply to Massachusetts for a Water Quality Certificate (WQC) (as authorized by Section 401 of the federal Clean Water Act) that will then be incorporated into the license issued by the FERC.
This means that whatever "conditions" MA puts in the WQC WILL be included in the FERC license, and FirstLight MUST adhere to them.
This is our best opportunity to make a real difference.
In January 2022, Greening Greenfield asked you to write to the Secretary of the EEA* (Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs) requesting that
- MassDEP hold robust public hearings on FirstLight's application for a Water Quality Certificate.
They have agreed! Good work everyone! See DEP's new web page.
- EEA/DEP host a recorded public information session prior to the hearings, to explain the process to all who are interested;
They have at least partially agreed. There will be such a session. We don't know if it will be recorded. See DEP's new web page.
- EEA/DEP create and update a dedicated website to help the public understand and track the progress;
They have agreed! This is excellent news. See DEP's new web page.
- EEA widely advertise these events and resources; and
Remains to be seen. We only found out that the new DEP web page existed because our legislative delegation told us. And we don't know what plans DEP has for advertising the public meetings, but hooray again and good job everyone. Per our request, DEP now has an option for you to add yourself to their mailing list for updates.
- Request that MEPA be fully involved in the relicensing process, especially as the original license pre-dates the entire 401 process.
We have heard nothing since June 2022, so can only guess no decision has been made?
After FirstLight applies for the WQC, which now is scheduled for after May 31, 2023, it will be time to tell EEA / MassDEP what we want to see in that certificate, and ways in which we support or disagree with the provisions proposed in FirstLight's application. But TODAY our simple ask is to make sure we will all have the opportunity to make those comments about the river and the license. The FORMAL PUBLIC COMMENT PERIOD will still probably only be 20 days, per regulation (possibly part of Trump era changes now in the process of being fixed, but not final until ~ spring 2023).
- Thank everyone for what they've done so far - this includes our legislators, but especially DEP;
- Ask DEP to add your name to their new email list so you'll be notified when they set public meeting dates.
- Ask DEP to record the public meetings. See third bullet below under what GG is doing.
- Consider subscribing to FERC's notification system that will let you know when any documents are filed with or issued by them.
- Watch FERC's recording of their WorkshOPP on "Tips for Powerful Comments" put on by their Office of Public Participation, 2/23/23.
WHAT GREENING GREENFIELD IS CURRENTLY DOING
On January 16 2023 we requested a number of improvements to the DEP website that DEP acknowledged on January 18 and on February 14 they agreed to make some changes.
- Keep their website up to date, including latest filings and delays, including the updated "final" Flow and Fish Passage Agreement when it becomes available;
- They have updated their "Status" section to reflect the delay until May 31, 2023;
- Flow and Fish Passage Agreement is still not a public document as of February 17, 2023
- Putting a "last updated" date on their website so that we know if we should re-review it;
- Under "Status" section, they have added "Website last revised on February 17, 2023."
- Commit to recording their public meetings and making links available on their website for those who could not attend, and explicitly say this on the website;
- "Response: The format of the public forums (online only vs. hybrid online/in-person) will depend partly on logistics and is yet to be determined. If stakeholders express interest in having the first forum recorded and posted, MassDEP will make the necessary arrangements."
- Use their new email notification list not just to announce meeting dates in the future, but to announce new updates such as the latest delays;
- Basically they said NO. They want us to just keep checking their website. "Response: MassDEP expects to use the email update feature as needed during our 401WQC process. Broader schedule updates can be reflected via the status section (item 1 above)"
Thanks yet again to our legislative delegation for raising these issues and others at their monthly meetings with EEA/DEP. They note there are still staff positions unfilled with the new adminstration.
CONTINUING PRIOR REQUESTS
- Encourage DEP to widely advertise the existence of the new web page and when public meetings will be held;
- Add 2 financial "conditions" to any WQC that is issued:(as we have to presume one will be)
$$$ Require FirstLight to Establish a Decommissioning Fund against the day (some day) when this infrastructure is no longer profitable and could be dismantled. Don't let them just walk away. We have little leverage over an entity that does not hold a current power license.
$$$ Require FirstLight to pay an annual fee to cover the state's cost of inspecting and overseeing FirstLight's adherence to their WQC and its conditions. State agencies are always strapped for money and staff, and the responsible party should pay.
These last 2 are in lawyer territory, but if we don't ask, we will never get these vital protections. Although they should also be requested later in testimony, we want MassDEP exploring these possibilities NOW.
- Don't send them testimony yet, since it won't be recorded, but start thinking about or preparing testimony to submit, or questions to ask, when the public comment period begins. That will be the time for specifics, and it might be a very brief window.
- At a very basic level, we think our asks will include
- Increased minimum flows, especially in summer and fall
- Much shorter delays before improvements are made — some are still 7 - 9 years out!
- The big ask: don't continue with the CT River as the lower reservoir but require a closed system by a certain date.
WRITE YOUR LETTER NOW
Public Official's names, email addresses, & postal addresses
EARLIER LETTERS TO SEE WHAT OTHERS HAVE EMPHASIZED
- Sample letter 2020 from Western MA legislative delegation to EEA/DEP/Gov
- Sample letter from Peg Hall to EEA/DEP/Gov/MEPA
- Sample letter from Nancy Hazard to EEA/DEP/Gov
WHAT COMES NEXT IN THE PROCESS
See Water Quality Certificate graphic of steps
(Click this link, then scroll down)
AIP - Agreement in Principle
AFLA - Amended Final License Application
CRC - Connecticut River Conservancy
DEP or MassDEP - Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection
EEA / EOEEA - Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs
EIS - Environmental Impact Statement
FERC - Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
FL - FirstLight Power
FLA - Final License Application
FPA - Federal Power Act
GG - Greening Greenfield
ISO-NE - Independent Systems Operator - New England
MEPA - Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act
NRF - Naturally Routed Flow
PM&E - Protection, Mitigation, & Enhancement
REA - Ready for Environmental Analysis
TF - Turners Falls
USGS - United States Geological Survey (usually used in FirstLight documents for USGS "gage" or "gage flow")
WQC - Water Quality Certificate
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