Two make 20-mile hike to protest FirstLight’s potential relicensing

  • Karl Meyer of Greenfield and Dave Dersham of Northampton walk onto the Sunderland Bridge on their way to Hadley from Greenfield Tuesday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Supporters join Karl Meyer of Greenfield on the Sunderland Bridge on Tuesday protesting the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Susan Olmsted of Greenfield holds netting in reference to the ¾-inch netting proposed to keep big fish, but not small fish, out of the turbines at the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Dave Dersham of Northampton and Karl Meyer of Greenfield walk along Route 116 in South Deerfield on their way to Hadley Tuesday morning. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Karl Meyer, on the Sunderland Bridge on Tuesday, protests FirstLight’s river operations. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Supporters join Karl Meyer of Greenfield and Dave Dersham of Northampton on the Sunderland Bridge on Tuesday protesting the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Supporters join Karl Meyer of Greenfield and Dave Dersham of Northampton on the Sunderland Bridge Tuesday protesting the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 12/1/2021 9:56:46 AM

SUNDERLAND — Under the cover of darkness Tuesday morning, two men left the Greenfield Common shortly before 6 a.m. to begin their 20-mile protest walk to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service headquarters in Hadley.

Karl Meyer of Greenfield and Dave Dersham of Northampton met a group of supporters on the Sunderland Bridge as they continued their walk to hand-deliver letters protesting FirstLight’s Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station, which is described as “a giant water battery” on FirstLight’s website. They expected to arrive at the headquarters by 4 p.m.

“It’s not a battery,” Meyer said on the bridge. “It’s assault and battery on an ecosystem.”

FirstLight Hydro Generating Co., which is owned by Canadian-based PSP Investments, applied for a 50-year Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) license in December 2020, which would determine how its Northfield Mountain and Turners Falls Dam facilities operate for the next half-century. FirstLight is meeting with U.S. Fish and Wildlife, Massachusetts Fish and Wildlife and the Department of Environmental Protection on Thursday in a closed-door meeting to potentially iron out a settlement.

Meyer said part of Tuesday’s protest was bringing the closed-door meeting to light because the river is a public resource and relicensing FirstLight without any special conditions would be giving the company a “license to kill” fish with the operation of their machinery.

“The emphasis today and the next three days is to drag them out into the open,” Meyer said. “We get one chance every half-century. … They should not be deciding another 50 years of this river’s future.”

Meyer said FirstLight’s plan to install a three-quarter-inch mesh to protect fish from the facility’s machinery is flawed and will not protect millions of fish from being ripped apart. If this measure is put in place, Meyer said, fish populations upriver in New Hampshire and Vermont will also be affected.

“This safety net is full of holes. … The net is not going to do anything,” Meyer argued. “We owe the people of Vermont and New Hampshire. … We owe future generations a healthy ecosystem.”

FirstLight Director of Government Affairs and Communications Len Greene said in a statement the company has committed $130 million in new investments to “eliminate the entrainment of fish” into Northfield Mountain while allowing the facility to continue generating electricity.

“The barrier net is designed to prevent the entrainment of fish into the plant,” Greene said in a statement. “It will not impede the migration of fish upstream of the plant. The proposal will help protect fish while maintaining the continued operation of the facility, which will play a vital role in the decarbonization of our electric grid.”

The Connecticut River sits inside the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge, a point that Meyer said the government should consider when issuing a new license to FirstLight. Conte was a U.S. congressman and avid fisherman who used his position to introduce legislation aimed at protecting the Connecticut River and its resources.

“We’re standing in the middle of Silvio O. Conte’s wildlife refuge, but there’s no refuge for fish in the Connecticut River,” Meyer said. He added this protest is also about emphasizing “Silvio O. Conte’s vision for the river.”

Turners Falls resident Karen Guillette said she joined Meyer and Dersham on the bridge “in support of this effort to not have another 50 years of destruction.” She added it seems like government officials are not listening to their constituents as “people have been writing and not getting a response.”

Greenfield resident Susan Olmsted said the Northfield Mountain facility has “outlived its purpose,” and should be shut down to focus on other less-deadly facilities.

“Not only is it a net energy loss, but it’s at a great cost to the ecosystem,” Olmsted said. “We cannot afford it environmentally. … I would like to see Northfield Mountain shut down and the Turners Falls Dam greatly improved.”

Meyer said shutting down the facility should have been done in 2014 when the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant was decommissioned. He added the facility has been shut down in the past and nobody’s electric service was turned off.

“Northfield Mountain went down for half a year in May 2010,” Meyer said. “Nobody lived by candlelight and nobody’s going to have to.”

Bernardston resident Frank Ribeiro said he joined Meyer and Dersham in an effort to raise awareness and “save the river.”

“Everybody drives by the river … but they don’t really understand the dynamics of what’s happening with FirstLight,” Ribeiro said. “All we’re asking is that they do the right thing.”

Dersham said he and Meyer aren’t totally sure what the next step is because they have to wait until a decision is made, potentially on Dec. 2. The issue then comes down to what the government agrees to let FirstLight do.

“There seems to be a profound lack of transparency,” Dersham said. “We’re not sure (what will happen) and I think they want that.”


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