Trying to bridge the information gap

Bill HiltsSometime it seems like the onslaught is coming at you from all sides. It’s frustrating when the valiant attempt to rally the troops is hampered because information is limited. Take, for example, the push to utilize the power of the lower Niagara River for establishing a hydrokinetic project off the shores of Lewiston, N.Y.

Rumors had started that a company from Western New York was looking at putting large underwater turbines off the shores of Lewiston in the Lower Niagara River, but all the information seemed to be second and third hand. A direct approach was used when I decided to contact the press office in Albany asking for information on this project. The information revealed that a company called ECOsponsible was exploring the option of placing this hydrokinetic project in the lower river. There was additional information through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

As the research continued, the amazing thing was how far along the company was in the process. According to the DEC press office, this company may not need any state permitting to make this project a reality. It seemed like everything fell under the FERC umbrella. As we plugged in the information on the FERC website, there were detailed reports showing that ECOsponsible was providing its due diligence. However, they were very vague as to how their progress was going.

On the website was a letter from the Village of Lewiston showing its support, along with a report from the company saying they had already reached out to groups and agencies like the U.S. Coast Guard, the Army Corps of Engineers, DEC, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Buffalo Niagara Riverkeepers. Could the BNR really be in support of such a project?

As I reached out to Jill Jedlicka, executive director with BNR, the real story started to come out. The group had already filed “an intervenor status” request with FERC back in May 2011 – doing so because they knew this project may affect the rights of the “public trust” resource…the resource being the Niagara River. They had many questions and concerns and asked that executive director of ECOsponsible, Dennis Ryan, answer and address them. While he did meet with BNR, none of those questions or concerns were addressed.

On Feb. 26, Dennis Ryan will be coming to the Niagara County Fisheries Development Board meeting in Lockport at the request of Frank Campbell, chair of the board. We will be able to find out more about this project and where it will be located. At least we hope. Our early word was that it was going to be off Artpark in Lewiston – the most popular drift in the river. This is the same location where the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has documented natural reproduction of lake trout – something that should be front page headlines in the fishing world – as well an established travel corridor of the threatened lake sturgeon.

Some questions that plague my thought process include: Why didn’t the Village of Lewiston reach out to the sportfishing community for input? Lewiston reaps millions of dollars every year from the impact of fishing. Why would they do anything to jeopardize that? And why didn’t DEC or FWS reach out to the local fishing community for input, or at least make the local stakeholders aware of what was going on? What is going on within those agencies that is limiting the communications with stakeholders and making the dissemination of information so difficult? And in the lesson department, we should be looking to groups like BNR to open up communications channels to share important information like this and work together when the resource is being compromised.

This story is far from over. We will continue to try and cut through the red tape and dig up information that will keep people abreast of these kinds of assaults on our resources. If you’ve never fished the Lower Niagara River, you owe it to yourself to do it at least once. Then you would better understand how much of a treasure this waterway truly is … and should be treated as such.

Which takes us to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights: New York’s recent assault on Second Amendment rights is being challenged. On Feb. 28, gun owners from around the Empire State will be convening in the Empire Plaza for a unified gathering to oppose the state’s new SAFE Act. Not only do these new laws violate the Second Amendment, they also violated the state’s own constitution by ramming it down our throats in two days – less time than required to allow for adequate feedback and discussion. Sportsmen’s federations and shooting groups from around the state are organizing buses to take people to the Legislative Office Building and it looks like it’s shaping up to be something very impressive. If you want to be part of something historic, be there by 10 a.m. to let your voice be heard.

Categories: Blog Content, New York – Bill Hilts Jr

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