MORGANTOWN – The proposal to remove 307.1 acres surrounding Cheat Lake from federal protection continues to generate public concern as the the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission reviews Lake Lynn Generation’s application to renew its Lake Lynn Hydroelectric Project license.
The public comment deadline for the proposal ended Oct. 25, and Friends of the Cheat was among those submitting comments, concluding its six pages of questions and suggestions with a request for FERC to hold a second public hearing, given the several problems associated with the first one, held Sept. 25.
While some comments were bluntly Lake Lynn Generation/Eagle Creek Renewable Energy’s proposal, FOC was more diplomatic in stating its concerns: “FOC does not fully understand the justification for the removal of these lands from the Project Boundary.” So it’s challenging to understand what’s being lost by the change and to provide comments on suggestions to balance any potential loss of function.
FOC points out to FERC that the affected lands are primarily forested, upland areas and riparian areas along the banks of Lake Lynn that buffer runoff, stabilize soils, and are integral to maintaining shoreline and water quality conditions.
“Removing them from the project would open the land to potential residential or commercial development which, in turn, would negatively impact water quality and available wildlife habitat and potentially impact the safety and experience of recreational users,” FOC said.
FOC stated three reasons for requesting a second public hearing: The Draft Study Plan was initiated during COVID, which impacted public awareness. The 760-page document submitted to FERC , which contained the boundary adjustment proposal, was made public on Sept. 11, allowing little time for review by Sept. 25.
And, “in the absence of accurate and complete information, misinformation about the project spread. Another public hearing, with a more experienced FERC facilitator, would allow for a better understanding of Eagle Creek’s proposed action … and lay a foundation for trust between the Licensee and the community through clear, transparent information exchange.”
(Our report on the Sept. 25 meeting noted that the crowd was often contentious and the meeeting was frequently chaotic.)
FOC included several other requests for FERC: requiring a water quality monitoring plan be included in the NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) process, not after issuing the final license; requiring Eagle Creek’s new recreation management plan be part of the NEPA process; and requiring a draft shoreline management plan be part of the NEPA process. FOC also would like to see a fish passage plan or prescription be included in the licensing process.
Lake Lynn Generation is a subsidiary of Eagle Creek Renewable Energy, which is a subsidiary of Ontario Power Generation. Maryland-based Eagle Creek owns 85 hydro-power stations in 18 states and has been the owner; Lake Lynn Generation has been this project’s licensee and owner since 2105. The current license was issued on Dec. 27, 1994, and expires Nov. 30, 2024.
LLG proposes no changes to operations or facilities. It does propose to adjust the project boundary to include only lands necessary for operation and maintenance of the power station, said Jody Smet, chief compliance officer and vice president of regulatory affairs for LLG/Eag;e Creek at the September meeting. She said, several times in the face of repeated skepticism, “We will not sell the land.”
So far, the pubic hasn’t bought those assurances, as reflected in the public comments posted on FERC’s e-library page for the project. The comments range from outright opposition to the boundary adjustment to concerned requests for FERC to look deeper and seek more information.
One commenter said, “LLG’s motive in seeking this boundary adjustment, then, is best understood by reference to a single word: Money. The subject acreage is extremely valuable, and LLG would be free to sell to the highest bidder, free of the constraints so properly imposed by FERC and her sister agencies.”
The Monongalia County Commission said the Lake Lynn Project “is an invaluable resource to not only our county, but residents and visitors from the tri-state area. With the recreational needs of our citizens in more demand than ever before, any acreage being removed from the project boundary could have a significant impact on those resources. We believe it is imperative that the operations continue at the Lake Lynn Dam as well as the recreational programs for which the project provides such as boat/dock access, fishing, swimming, walking trails, nature viewing areas along with many more.”
The commission would like to see the recreation management plan be prepared every five years instead of the prescribed 10-year timeframe. The commission is pleased that a shoreline management plan is being proposed requested that a draft SMP be made available within six months to allow for stakeholder engagement.
Pennsylvania state legislator Charity Grimm Krupa, who represents the area of Fayette County affected by the dam project, offered several sharp criticisms of LLG/Eagle Creek.
“Ontario Power Generation’s lack of upkeep and failure to complete general maintenance is noteworthy as it evidences a general attitude of gross neglect and broad contempt for the public lands under its purview and control as the operator of the power station and surrounding areas. … For example, it has been reported that the public restrooms are unusable as the toilets, urinals, and sinks are not operable and no toilet paper or soap is provided.”
The proposed boundary adjustment, she said, “is a ridiculous proposal and must be opposed. For generation after generation, the subject land (which includes a public park, nature viewing area, and public access marina) has been enjoyed by the people of our local communities. For decades, the operators of the power station and surrounding areas have honored the express commitment to this recreational benefit.”
Commenters have suggested varous alternatives to FERC regarding the boundary adjustment. One commenter put them succinctly: Leave the historic project boundaries in place, allowing them to remain under FERC’s regulation; or obtain a contractual guarantee from Eagle Creek that the removed properties will be donated or transferred to an appropriate agency to maintain them as forested public land or wildlife sanctuary, available to the public for hiking and wildlife viewing opportunities.
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DOMINION POST EDITORIAL 1 NOVEMBER 2023
People require more than verbal promises
October 31, 2023 11:04 pm by Opinion, The Dominion Post
When it comes to Lake Lynn Generation’s proposal to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to remove 307.1 acres surrounding Cheat Lake from federal protection, Friends of the Cheat said it best: “FOC does not fully understand the justification for the removal of these lands from the Project Boundary.”
Lake Lynn Generation has said the removal is largely for administrative purposes — simplifying the project’s boundary to only cover lands necessary for operation and maintenance of the power station. (It’s important to note that the following public access areas will remain inside the boundary and therefore under federal protection: Cheat Lake Park, Cheat Haven and Tower Run nature viewing areas, Sunset Marina boat ramp and parking lot and Tailwater fishing access.)
The company has also repeatedly said it will not sell the removed land. This claim has understandably been met with skepticism, which has led to some rather contentious public comments and hearings.
If Lake Lynn Generation wants to smooth things over, there are few things it could do:
1. Offer a clearer and more detailed explanation of why the 307 acres need to be removed from the project boundaries, as well as a detailed explanation of what would happen to the land once it is no longer under FERC protection.
2. Provide a legally binding document guaranteeing that the company won’t sell the land, especially not for any kind of residential or commercial development.
3. Put the land in a trust or otherwise donate it to an organization that would safeguard the land and its recreational opportunities, such as the Monongalia County Commission, BOPARC or FOC.
West Virginians, in particular, have learned the hard way that companies’ promises are too often empty. Lake Lynn Generation will have to offer something more tangible than verbal assurances.