The Pembroke Elementary School gym held over 50 people on the evening of October 25 to present comments and questions at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's (FERC) scoping session on the Pennamaquan Tidal Power LLC project proposed for the Pennamaquan River entrance to Cobscook Bay. The scoping session was held by three FERC staff members who will develop the project's environmental assessment (EA), which will be used by the commission to determine whether, and under what conditions, to issue a license for the project. To support and assist with the assessment, the staff hoped to glean all pertinent issues needing identification and analysis, including studies. A second meeting was held in Bangor on October 26.
Nick Palso, Steve Kartalia and Samantha Davidson of FERC's Division of Hydropower Licensing had their work cut out for them at the Pembroke meeting and admitted that they had not expected the volume of questions and comments that kept the discussion going for well over two hours. While initially the public had understood that there would be an opportunity for their questions to be answered, both Palso and Kartalia explained that the primary goal was to get questions and comments on the record. They noted that many of the questions raised could not be answered without the types of studies that the scoping session is meant to identify.
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. During the scoping session Halcyon Marine Hydroelectric founder Ramez Atiya, who designed the project, 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.
Wide range of concerns
Public comments encompassed a wide range of concerns. Resident Stephen Sanfilippo got the questions rolling with his concern about the possibility of the project being started but never completed. Romantha Burow said, "We need a commitment that if the project is closed down that cleanup and clearing out is done." She and a number of others are concerned about the barrage's contribution to sedimentation. She suggested that tidal scouring around some of the barrage's components would be significant when there was "local weather."
Another resident picked up on the sedimentation issue and the possibility of increases in pollution for shellfish. "With the tidal structure, I'm wondering if the pollution will get worse or better," he said.
Ice flow and its impact on the structure was one of the issues raised by fisherman Julie Keene. She also suggested that the corrosion problems plaguing the bridge between Lubec and Campobello might be felt by the tidal project, considerably shortening the estimated lifespan of over 100 years, and thus the cost‑effectiveness as outlined by Atiya. "How is that going to impact the long‑term maintenance?" she asked. Later she raised the subject of the estuary. "What will happen to it?" She was concerned that the barrage would change the confluence of fresh and salt waters and contribute to pollution problems.
Gulf of Maine Inc. co‑owner Amy Sheehan asked, "How would the structure be lit?" Another wanted to know what the noise level would be like. The barrage's light and noise, above ground and below water, others suggested, could have an impact on wildlife. Cobscook Bay Resource Center's Heidi Leighton asked that studies be done on fishing impacts and the "passage of anadromous fish and commercial species that have free flow." She asked whether there would be a security zone around the barrage and the lock, and whether that security would be permanent or temporary. In addition, others raised the question of the lock's ability to handle a range of boat sizes and asked how small craft such as kayaks and canoes would navigate around the barrage.
The role of the barrage on future industrial development was raised by Ken Ross of Robbinston. Cobscook Bay, he said, is one of the last undeveloped bays in the country and "one of the most biologically productive." Concerning the impact of the causeway built in the 1930s between Sipayik and Eastport, he asserted: "After that the fishing just dropped right off dramatically -- it messed with the flow of the bay. Bird life dropped off, too."
Dr. Robin Seeley, a professor at Cornell University and senior research associate at the Shoals Marine Laboratory on Appledore Island, Maine, presented a list of comments and proposed studies. Her list included: the need to expand the geographic study area; the impact of climate change and rising sea levels on the barrage over its projected 120‑year life; the impact of the barrage on water temperature and the relationship between a rise in water temperature and the increase of invasive species such as the green crab; the need to add seals, porpoises and whales as a protected resource and to understand how these mammals use the bay inlet and river. Her list of needed studies included: mollusk resources, macroinvertebrates and larvae, lobster nursery areas and eel, alewife and river otter abundance and movement.
Information, "a lot of it," was needed before a decision about the proposal's future should be made, said Albion Goodwin. "The questions generated tonight are nothing compared to what's going to come up over the year." He added, "I'm not for or against it," but he said, "We want information. You [Atiya] have been missing in action. You've got to put in some time here. You should put together an advisory team of local people."
In response to Goodwin's admonishment, Atiya welcomed the opportunity to begin a dialogue. He said, "I hope you will keep an open mind about the project. Tidal power is here and now. ... It's cost-effective power, and that's something that can't be said for other sources like offshore wind." He added that the project has been designed to have a low environmental impact, and he said he was "willing to back that up and down with you. ... This is the beginning of the conversation."
The FERC scoping session is part of a multi‑year application and licensing process. The session is a planning tool and is used to identify issues, concerns and opportunities associated with the proposed project. The public, federal, state and local agencies, Indian tribes and others are asked to identify environmental and socioeconomic issues as well as determine the resource areas, issues, needed analysis and studies amongst other items that relate to the project.
All of the scoping session comments and questions will be posted to the FERC e‑library site at <www.ferc.gov> using Docket P‑13884. Those who wish to add their comments or study requests to the scoping session may file with FERC until November 16. 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 St., 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 on the docket site.