Expose political meddling in Williams Dam hydropower license & wildlife decisions
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Few Hoosiers know that the state DNR owns an ancient, crumbling dam on the East Fork White River. Williams Dam was constructed circa 1912 to generate hydropower, which ceased in 1948. It blocks fish passage, including threatened and endangered species (such as the lake sturgeon and fanshell mussel), to nearly 5000 square miles of watershed.
After numerous schemes to reactivate the dam were proposed and rejected over many years, the state finally concluded that the best course of action was to remove the dam "Due to its deteriorating condition, the high cost of reconstruction, and the negative environmental impacts posed by the dam..." (DNR letter to Senator Lugar, April 4, 2004.) When the administration of Mitch Daniels and Lawrence County's own Becky Skillman took over, however, a new scheme was proposed under the guise of "green energy" for Crane Naval Weapons Station. Thus began a long federal-state process to obtain a hydropower license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (docket # P-13346), a process unknown to all but a handful of Hoosiers, even though the public owns the dam!
When this "good ol' boy deal" was revealed by the applicant (Free Flow Power, aka Paynebridge LLC, now "Rye Development") in December 2013, it was a "done deal" that they wanted to trot out to their financial backers. Although key deadlines had passed, FISH petitioned to intervene in the process, and raised numerous environmental and legal objections. FERC denied our intervention, but was otherwise mostly silent on the matter for nearly five months. We assume that they were considering the law.
On Aug. 13, 2014, the head of the Lawrence County Economic Growth Council wrote a letter to Congressman Todd Young on behalf of Free Flow, complaining that "this project is having trouble in getting a license issued from the (FERC) Federal Energy Regulatory Commission... they are dragging their heals [sic] and as a result might cause a derailment in the total project."
The next day, Congressman Todd Young intervened in the licensing process by firing off a letter to FERC's Congressional liaison, expressing his "interest" and telling FERC to "review and extend every consideration" to his "constituent", with the Aug. 13 letter attached. Twenty-five days later, FERC issued a 50-year license to Free Flow Power to reconstruct Williams Dam and generate power with it. In their rebuttal to the comments of FISH and others, FERC made various errors and questionable statements. Furthermore, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service had the legal right to require in the license that fish passage be installed, which they failed to do! When questioned about that by phone, a USFWS regional official exclaimed "WHAT endangered species?" Letters and petitions to USFWS Director Daniel Ashe went unanswered.
The applicant subsequently received a 2-year extension to begin rebuilding the dam. We don't have much time to correct this problem, and it's high time we do it! Therefore we are petitioning U.S. SENATOR JOE DONNELLY to:
- Obtain, and make available to the public, documentation and statements from FERC and the DOE Inspector General (and other relevant parties) which may reveal evidence of political meddling or undue influence, particularly by Congressman Todd Young and/or his staff, and its effect upon FERC's processing of the Williams Dam Project application (FERC # P-13346), and upon FERC's Sept. 8, 2014 order issuing a 50-year license to the applicant;
- Determine what other violations or poor practices may have occurred among the various federal agencies affected by or involved with this application, particularly those leading to the decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to neglect its duty to prescribe the construction, operation and maintenance of fishways in this project;
- Take urgent action on the request, by signers of this petition, that steps be taken to fully insure the health and integrity of the East Fork White River ecosystem, particularly by allowing or installing fish passage on the river at Williams, Indiana.
Today: Fishable Indiana Streams for Hoosiers, Inc. (FISH) is counting on you
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