Threats to Niagara River a huge concern

Bill HiltsThe Niagara River ecosystem is being tampered with once again, this time at the hands of a company that is taking advantage of one of the latest buzz words – in the name of “green” energy. ECOsponsible is a company formed on the campus of the University of Buffalo back in 2007, with a focus on special LED bulbs that save energy. Now the company is expanding and their focus is to build hydrokinetic projects, starting with the Niagara River.

According to Executive Director Dennis Ryan, the company wants to place one project in the upper Niagara River and a second in the lower Niagara River. Carrying the banner of “green” energy, Ryan has been meeting with state and federal agencies as he twists and turns his way to filing for his first pilot project license later this year. In looking at how far this company has come in a relatively short amount of time, it’s scary to think about what else is going on behind our backs – we being the general public who enjoy these natural resources.

For example, the Department of Environmental Conservation held a closed doors meeting with ECOsponsible on Dec. 5, 2012. I did not find out about the meeting or the project – other than rumors flying around – when I received notification from the DEC Press Office in Albany following a direct question on Jan. 29, 2013. The DEC meeting didn’t show up in any regional reports or work updates for December. Can anyone tell me why DEC shouldn’t notify the general public when a resource like the Niagara River is being compromised? In addition, the direct quote from the DEC press office was “as this project falls under the authority of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), state permits may not be necessary.” Are you kidding me? No state permits to put in huge hydrokinetic projects?

I spoke with Jill Jedlicka, executive director with the Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper (BNR). She expressed many of these same concerns. Ryan attended a meeting with BNR last October – more reason why better communication is needed between stakeholders of our natural resources – and she noted “Ryan brought with him little information on a dying I-Pad, and had not even read the four pages of our comments prior to the meeting…every question we raised was answered with a generic ‘I can’t comment on that right now.’” BNR has filed an “Intervenor status” with FERC.

In the meantime, Ryan used that meeting with BNR to say the group “agreed” to several items, but they never did. Ryan has still not answered their original questions.

On Feb. 26, 2013, Ryan presented the same type of haphazard presentation to the Niagara County Fisheries Development Board … using the same Ipad with a PowerPoint presentation. The board asked that the PowerPoint be sent to the board immediately following the talk and Ryan agreed. The board has still not received that PowerPoint presentation.

The actual project he was ready to move forward with was an initial pilot of a three-turbine array. The turbines would sit about 15 feet above the floor of the river bottom, covering a 100-foot by 100-foot area. The anchor-free area would be 300 feet by 300 feet. The intent was to place five of these arrays in the lower Niagara River off Lewiston. The first would be off the Silo, a popular perch and lake trout spot.

At a time when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has documented spawning lake trout in the Niagara River – historic information within the fishing community – and they continue to document a huge lake sturgeon population using the river system, this is the wrong time to be trying to compromise our natural resources in the name of “green” energy. It looks like this is more of a quick way to score some bucks to take advantage of federal grants and ride the “green” gravy train. There is a time and a place for green energy – just not now in the Niagara River. The Niagara River has already given enough to power.

The scariest part of all this is that ECOsponsible really doesn’t know what it’s getting itself into as far as the power and characteristics of the Niagara River. The company had not considered what a huge ice field flowing down the river would do to it or how the impact of the June moss influx would impact its operation. It sounds like the Niagara River is their guinea pig. Help! 

Categories: New York – Bill Hilts Jr

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