Emotions ran high at the Pembroke town office on Friday, August 8, when over 70 residents and interested parties met with two representatives of Halcyon Tidal Power and the subsidiary Pennamaquan Tidal Power LLC and two representatives of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). The meeting was required by FERC as part of the "initial study plan meeting and revised process plan" of the tidal company's hydropower proposal.
While company President Ted Verrill opened the discussion by suggesting that he and Chief Technical Officer and Chairman Ramez Atiya were there to "chat" with the public, the meeting was one of three required by FERC for Pennamaquan Tidal's integrated licensing process. FERC Division of Hydropower licensing environmental staff members John Baumner and Nick Palso were on hand to record comments. Verrill told the audience, "We are here today to gather additional input, questions and concerns" related to the proposed study plans.
The Pennamaquan Tidal Power project proposes a 1,616‑foot‑long tidal barrage extending from the shoreline of Leighton Neck to the shoreline of Hersey Neck. It would consist of modular wall panels with support columns, powerhouse caissons, a navigational lock and a tidal basin or impoundment. The scoping document notes that the project would have a total installed capacity of 24 megawatts and an estimated average annual generation of 80,000 megawatt‑hours. Atiya has noted that enough power should be generated for a minimum of 13,000 homes. The power generated would go into the New England power grid for distribution. Verrill noted that during the construction phase there might be 150 to 200 direct jobs created by the project and after that phase from 40 to 60 employees on site to man the facility 24 hours, 365 days per year.
Out of those members of the public present, very few spoke in favor of the project. While Atiya asked the audience to "withhold judgment until the studies are out," the public was having none of it. Hersey Cove property owner Woody Gillies told Atiya and Verrill that the paperwork so far submitted to FERC by Halcyon has been a disappointment. "If I were an investor I wouldn't contribute a nickel," he said. He questioned the validity of the information presented so far, adding, "We don't want to be a guinea pig."
Dr. Robin Seeley noted that while Halcyon insists that a barrage is not a dam, every definition she has found clearly defines it as such. She then noted that the Pembroke selectmen had issued a July 2013 letter of support for the project's goals of economic development and job creation. She questioned the reasoning behind Atiya's request for the public to suspend judgment about the project until the studies were in when the selectmen had been asked to "give judgment" in support when those same studies were nowhere in sight at the time. The lone selectman present, Joyce Johnson, stood to clarify that the selectmen had written the letter in support of finding out more about the project.
Emotions began to gather steam, with more than a few speakers battling tears, when Jamie Bissonette‑Lewey turned to Verrill and told him, "In order to get to any point we really have to respect each other. When you said you were here to 'chat' that was not respectful." She added that people in the community had the knowledge and expertise to help Halcyon understand important areas of the study plans such as the outer and inner ledges where seals nurture their pups. "If you come to this community you need to respect it," she said. Her words were met with a round of applause, including from Atiya.
Fisherwoman Julie Keene's voice grew choked when she talked about the possibility of fishing boats getting caught up in the proposed barrage's lock, which as proposed would allow boats only up to 42 feet. Too many fishermen have been lost already, she said, her voice wavering. She queried the ability of eels, lobster, crabs, scallops, periwinkles and clams to withstand silt buildup and navigate the barrage and lock. "My heart bleeds," she said. The whole bay is a unit, she added. "This is not an industrial zone. It's our home." Atiya noted that Keene's presence at a meeting held the day before in Bangor had garnered valuable information on studies that needed to be included in the study plan. "It's just the sort of commentary we like to hear. The one about the elvers is one we had not heard of and that's incredibly valuable."
After a number of additional comments from the public that questioned the project, Pembroke resident Deirdre Whitehead asked the Halcyon men, "Are both of you really hearing what I'm hearing in this room? Cobscook Bay has been one of the most productive bays in the state." She explained, "People here fear that your project will be the last nail in the coffin." She went on to say that she believed in alternative energy and was proud of the efforts of Ocean Renewable Power Company to develop tidal power units, but that the barrage project proposed for Pembroke could not be made palatable by a park, aesthetically pleasing powerhouses and tourism possibilities. "Our fear is so much deeper than that. Our fear is that we're going to lose our bay."
"Part of being economically depressed makes you vulnerable to offers," said Sipayik tribal councillor Newell Lewey. He spoke of the developers who came to the tribe and offered millions but who had to be turned down because of the potential negative impacts on the community. "We all make mistakes," he said with emotion catching at his throat, but he hoped that in 40 years people across the nation would not be saying, "Pembroke was a disaster, but we've learned from that."
A community‑based advisory group was formed over a year ago to gather information about the project, said coordinator Albion Goodwin. He referenced the group's website, <www.pennamaquan.com/> as a source of some information. In addition, the group has invited guest speakers to its meetings held at the Pembroke Library; however, these meetings have not been publicized and presently scarce guest speaker information exists on the website. Goodwin noted that guests have ranged from the Maine Public Advocate, representatives from Emera, state tax assessor, Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, Department of Marine Resources, Department of Agriculture and others. Halcyon's website is <www.halcyontidalpower.com/>.
Study plans, if approved, would take 12 to 15 months to complete, said Verrill. The results would be evaluated and presented to FERC. If they are approved, Verrill estimated a construction timeframe of 18 months with completion sometime in 2018. Study plans encompass about 30 areas and were outlined at the Bangor meetings as: estimated changes in tidal regime; geotechnical and submerged soil study and RH Foster fueling pier and site contamination; flow model; water quality; evaluation of potential for erosion of substrate; ice cover, movement and melting; residence time of nutrients; impact of construction -- sediment mobilization; noise impact; RH Foster parcel 34; hydropower potential and project economic study; recreational resources; archeological and historical resources; project aesthetics and architecture; submerged aquatic vegetation; resident and marine migratory fish study; river herring; rainbow smelt; eel study; brook trout and wild brown trout; invertebrate and shellfish study; entrainment and turbine passage; invasive species; bird study; marine mammal study; terrestrial resources.
For additional information about the project, visit the FERC e‑library site at <www.ferc.gov> using docket P‑13884. A new comment period regarding the study plan has started and will end on October 18. Those who wish to add their comments or study requests may file with FERC until the October 18 date. Comments of fewer than 6,000 words may be filed online by following the instructions at <www.ferc.gov/docs‑filing/ecomments.asp>. Longer comments or study recommendations should be filed by using <www.ferc.gov/docs‑filing/efiling.asp.> They may also be mailed, with the original and seven copies, to: Kimberly D. Bose, Secretary, FERC, 888 First Street, NE, Washington, D.C., 20426. All filings should be clearly identified on the first page with "Pennamaquan Tidal Power Plant Project (P‑13884‑001)." At the online docket site are all comments and letters submitted by intervener agencies and members of the public as well as documents filed by Pennamaquan Tidal Power LLC. A detailed description of the project is filed in the docket.