EDITORIAL

Meyer speaks for the Connecticut River 

The five-year-long relicensing process of FirstLight Hydrogenerating Co., with three power-generating facilities on the Connecticut River, was about to sail through, having received Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approval in July and despite the existence of 11 entities with intervenor status. That is, until Karl Meyer, the only individual on the list of 11 legally recognized stakeholders, intervened within the window of time allowed by FERC.

Intervenor status is a rare privilege. As approved by FERC, it allows individuals, towns or groups to take part directly in federal licensing proceedings. Intervenors have the right to require legal depositions to seek documents, testimony and other undisclosed evidence from FirstLight. Intervenors can attend meetings and have the right to argue their case before the regulatory panel.

Back in early 2016, amid natural gas pipeline plans, then-Northfield Selectwoman Julia Blyth explained the importance of being an intervenor this way: “This gets our foot in the door if we want to take legal action. It puts out a strong message that we care and we’re paying attention.”

Despite there being 11 entities granted the coveted intervenor status in the license renewal of FirstLight Hydro Generation Co., only Meyer ended up throwing a monkey wrench into the impending approval of the restructuring of FirstLight into two smaller companies.

Meyer has been a stakeholder and member of the Fish and Aquatics Study Team in the current Federal Energy Regulatory Commission relicensing process for the Northfield Mountain and Turners Falls projects since 2012. He is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists. There are a lot of issues that could have provided points of contention for various stakeholders, such as stream bank erosion, the hydro-generator’s role in producing green energy, a goal of the state, and expanded year-round pumping. Meyer zeroed in on endangered species, claiming that, in May, FirstLight cut off the flow of the river at Rock Dam in Montague, despite having been alerted to the presence of shortnose sturgeon, an endangered fish that spawns in the area around Rock Dam. This would constitute a violation of the terms of FirstLight’s operating license, Meyer said.

In his appeal to FERC, Meyer argues that such a violation makes FirstLight ineligible for the change to its licenses that it has requested. The incident also reveals, he said, that the Northfield and Montague locations do not fully coordinate their operations, which they are required to do per the terms of their license agreement with FERC.

A larger worry of the stakeholders is that separate, smaller companies would limit the amount of money the power company would be required to spend on river protection and maintenance.

Meyer’s claim puts out the strong message that he cares and he’s paying attention. Whether Meyer’s move means that the restructuring has just hit a speed bump, or been brought to a full stop, remains to be seen. FERC answered Meyer last week, saying that it will hold a rehearing on FirstLight’s request. At the very least, FERC will issue a finding, Meyer said.

“My bottom-line interest is to give a voice to the Connecticut River,” Meyer said.

We believe the river and its towns owe Meyer a nod of thanks.

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