Fly fishing: Power plant licensing process open to comment

What happens in the next two weeks may determine whether the public gets a say in New York City’s pl

What happens in the next two weeks may determine whether the public gets a say in New York City’s plan to build hydro power plants at its reservoirs on the east and west branches of the Delaware River and the Neversink River.

New York City announced Aug. 13 it will seek a federal license to install power plants at its water supply reservoir dams in the Catskills. The announcement started a 30-day window for public comments on whether the city gets to use the “traditional” licensing process or the “integrated” one.

The difference is crucial. In an “integrated” licensing process, the city would have to conduct studies of the impact of the hydro plants, similar to those required under New York’s State Environmental Quality Review Act. In a “trad­itional” licensing, the city would be under no such obligation–and the “traditional” approach is the one it wants.

The last time New York City talked about putting turbines on the state’s best trout rivers, back in the 1970s, it was “swarmed” by envir­onmentalists who defeated the plan, said Greg Starheim, chief executive officer of the Delaware County Electric Cooperative.

The non-profit cooperative declared its own interest in installing hydro power plants at the Catskill reservoirs in June 2008, but the city then filed a competing application and won the right to apply for the license from the federal government.

“The approach that the city is taking envir­onmentally is very different from ours, and we think they’re running right into the same situation they did in the ’70s, with little regard for fish and wildlife,” Starheim said. “As they go through the licensing process, they’re going to get crucified, and rightly so.”

It’s not clear whether the city really even wants to build and operate power plants. Sen. Charles Schumer says it doesn’t, and has urged the city to let the electric cooperative proceed with its plan. Starheim said he thinks the city acted “in part to block us from doing this.” The city isn’t answering questions and has only issued a statement saying it “continues to work closely with DCEC.”

What is clear, however, is that New York City has been granted an official permit by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to apply for a license to operate power plants on blue-ribbon trout rivers, and wants permission to avoid any serious scrutiny in the process. Until it says otherwise, we should assume it means business.

The process for electronically filing comments to the FERC is long and clunky, but I managed to get through it.

Go to, click “For Citizens,” then click “Get Involved.” A copy of my letter is on my blog, The Fly Line, at You can snail-mail a comment to Office of the Secretary, Federal Energy Regul­atory Commission, 888 First St. NE, Washington, DC 20426. Refer to “West of Hudson Hydroelectric Project, Project No. 13287” in your correspondence.

Unlike the city, the DCEC is willing to candidly discuss its plans, and says it welcomes a thorough environmental review.

Starheim said flows from the Cannonsville, Pepacton and Neversink reservoirs would continue to be governed, as they are now, by the Delaware River Basin Commission, which has voting members from New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania and New York City. The flows would not be altered for the purpose of generating power.

Starheim acknowledged, however, that the DCEC’s plan to bring water over the dams in siphons could introduce water that is warmer than what is currently released from penstocks at the bottoms of the dams themselves. The cold water from the dams is essential for the high-quality trout habitat of the Catskill tailwaters.

“I’m not at all discounting that in a pure siphon approach, there would be warmer water coming over the dam,” Starheim said. “There needs to be some kind of combination here, and you don’t have the answer until you do the licensing study.”

Categories: Sports

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