The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Local News

January 12, 2013

Hawks Nest hydro submits changed proposal

HAWKS NEST — Responding to comments and requests from government, environmental advocates, and the whitewater industry, Brookfield Renewable Energy now proposes that 10 studies be undertaken for the relicensing of its Hawks Nest Hydroelectric Project.

Among the additions to its initial list of proposed studies are an in-stream flow study and a recreational flow study.

The upcoming relicensing of the Hawks Nest Hydro project has triggered a debate about whether more water should be released from the dam for recreational whitewater or whether the minimum flow of 100 cubic feet per second should remain as it is.

The rafting industry says scheduled watering of a 5.5-mile stretch of the New River known as The Dries could create a highly-marketable “family friendly” stretch of whitewater in Fayette County, unlocking significant tourism potential.

Currently, the area is used by a relatively small number of dedicated paddlers when there is enough rain to cause water to spill over the dam.

But representatives from West Virginia Manufacturing, known locally as Alloy, say any additional water released from the dam will mean an increase in their production costs.

The hydro facility generates 25-cycle power for the silicon metal manufacturer. It was specifically designed to power Alloy’s furnaces, which consume the hydro plant’s entire output.

In its Proposed Study Plan, filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) on Jan. 5, Brookfield rejected requests for an analysis of the potential economic impacts of increasing recreational flows.

But it also rejected requests from Alloy for a study of the economic impact of the manufacturing facility.

Brookfield said the local outfitters and the manufacturing plant are themselves best positioned to define their own economic value. The company states it would be “neither appropriate nor feasible” for them to fund studies to determine or prove that value.

But they do say they are open to establishing workings groups or forums with the two groups “to share economic information with the objective of developing a common reference for discussion of economic factors and considerations” as the license application is prepared.

FERC also states it has added socioeconomics as a resource to be evaluated in its environmental analysis.

In response to requests from the whitewater industry, Brookfield has included a study of the range of flows that could provide whitewater boating opportunities in The Dries.

The company proposes that volunteers paddle or raft The Dries under three different water levels to record how the changes in flow alter the experience.

Between May and October of this year, they want to test low, medium, and high flow within the range of 500 cfs to 2,000 cfs, with the possibility of a 3,000 cfs assessment.

They want to do the evaluations when there is enough excess water naturally spilling over the dam to produce the flows, instead of doing controlled releases through the dam itself.

They have also beefed up their proposed study of the impact of the dam on aquatic habitat in The Dries. Initially, they proposed studying the habitat only at the current minimum flow of 100 cfs. Now, they propose an in-stream flow study that would model habitat over a range of flows in order to determine whether additional flows are needed.

Many groups, including the National Committee for the New River, the National Parks Conservation Association and American Whitewater, proposed such a study during a recent public comment period.

The 10 studies currently proposed by Brookfield include: water quality; fish entrainment; aquatic species composition and abundance survey; rare, threatened or endangered aquatic species; bypass reach aquatic habitat/instream flow; wetland and riparian habitat survey; rare, threatened or endangered terrestrial species; recreational flow assessment; recreation use and needs assessment; and cultural resources.

A meeting on Brookfield’s Proposed Study Plan is scheduled Feb. 4. Comments on the study plan are due April 5.

On or before May 5, Hawks Nest Hydro will file a Revised Study Plan (RSP) incorporating comments it receives on the Proposed Study Plan. FERC will issue its final study plan determination by June 4. The relicensing application is due at the end of 2015.

For more information on the whitewater industry’s position, visit http://www.americasbestwhitewater.com/wet-the-dries-facts/.

Brookfield has also set up a website where they post all public relicensing documents and other relevant information: http://www.hawksnestandglenferris.com/.

— E-mail: cmoore@register-herald.com

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