Cumberland Times-News

July 1, 2013

Coalition tries to intervene in dam relicensing in effort to curb pollution

Group’s attempt ‘most significant opportunity to save the bay’

Matthew Bieniek
Cumberland Times-News

— CUMBERLAND — Attorneys representing the Clean Chesapeake Coalition, an organization that includes Allegany County, have filed to intervene in the federal relicensing process for the Conowingo Dam.

The coalition wants conditions added to the license to address concerns about the dam’s role in pollution of the Chesapeake Bay.

“This intervention presents the most significant opportunity to save the bay in our lifetime, given that the license renewal is for a term of 30-50 years,” according to the coalition’s website.

The dam is owned by the Exelon Corporation and is licensed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Coalition, which is beginning discussions and a review of the relicensing.

Allegany County strongly supports the effort to intervene, said Allegany County Commissioner Bill Valentine.

A high percentage of the pollutants entering the bay come from the Susquehanna River, where the dam stands, officials said.

The dam no longer serves the filtering process it once did, and now pollutants go through the dam during water releases and polluted sediments have accumulated in the dam. The coalition believes the dam should be dredged.

“It’s lost all of its scrubbing power,” Valentine said. “They’re never going to take care of the bay unless the Conowingo Dam is addressed.”

Charles “Chip” MacLeod of Funk and Bolton said he didn’t expect any objections to the intervention, because the local counties clearly have an interest in the process.

Some coalition members are concerned about discussions that have occurred outside the formal licensing process.

In a June 18 letter to John Smith of FERC, a Kent County commissioner writing on behalf of the coalition questioned some of the procedures in the relicensing process, especially settlement negotiations and a pre-filing consultation project.

“We are troubled by the concept that a settlement agreement can be filed by Exelon with supporting documentation that will be given weight by the Commission in making environmental determinations,” wrote Ronald Fithian.

Some environmental groups  have said that while the dam is an issue, it should not become the main concern for bay cleanup efforts.

The county agreed to pay the firm up to $25,000 for its efforts and each county part of the coalition agreed to pay a portion of the attorney fees.

The coalition’s website is: http://www.cleanchesapeakecoalition.com/.

Contact Matthew Bieniek at mbieniek@times-news.com.