BELLOWS FALLS, Vt. – On Tuesday, Feb. 28, the Bellows Falls Village Trustees discussed the re-licensing process of Hydro Quebec, formerly Great River Hydro, and the upcoming public comment period.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is responsible for the license and regulation of non-federal hydroelectric projects. Hydro Quebec recently acquired Great River Hydro, retaining its 100 employees with the indication that the North Walpole branch will continue to operate as a distinct business entity.
Municipal Manager Scott Pickup said it’s a new parent, but basically “we are dealing with all of the same folks.”
Pickup said the greatest interest to the village is the formal comment period scheduled for May. He said it will give an opportunity to direct specific comments on items such as improved fencing along the canal, improvements on the canal wall, and access to the green space below the Brown and Fuller Memorial Park for summer activities.
Pickup said when they ask Hydro, the answer is “always no,” and this was a chance to outline what the village wants in the next 50 years. He suggested contacting state and federal officials for assistance and support.
Village President Deborah Wright asked about renegotiating tax agreements. Pickup said that was a separate issue and would be a whole other discussion.
Pickup said things related to the Depot Street Bridge project, such as maintenance of the canal wall and access to the green space, as well as Herrick’s Cove, were important aspects to discuss.
The Connecticut River Conservancy (CRC), has been a force for positive environmental change along the Connecticut River and continues to be a voice to keep the river healthy and flourishing.
Steward Kathy Urffer presented information last year to the board on this once-in-a-lifetime re-licensing process and continues to urge community members to stay engaged.
CRC states that five hydropower facilities along the Connecticut River are up for re-licensing. This license will last 30-50 years and impact hundreds of miles of the river.
The CRC has advocated for safe and effective fish passage, recreational access for all river users, protection of habitats, and minimizing erosion. In 2022, they supported recreational improvements including the addition of trails, camping sites, pocket parks, and boating access.
In Rockingham, there are three public river accesses, Herrick’s Cove, the marina, and the Riverfront Park. The Area Wide Plan showed community support for canal walks and vistas of the river. In North Walpole there are boat launches both north and south of the dam.
Annette Spaulding, local diver, said in a video presentation she gave in 2019 that she had experienced “the best visibility in 38 years.”
For more information, visit www.ctriver.org and Connecticut River Joint Commissions www.crjc.org/calendar-projects/relicensing-of-connecticut-river-dams.
The Bellows Falls Village Trustees meet on the second and fourth Tuesday of each month at 6 p.m. in the Lower Theater of the Bellows Falls Opera House. The Village Annual Meeting is Monday, May 15, at 7 p.m.