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Negotiations continue on Conowingo Dam owner’s clean-up

By BRUCE HOTCHKISS
Senior Editor

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (May 6, 2014) — An estimated 200 million tons of sediment and pollutants are backed up behind the Conowingo Dam and active negotiations continue with Exelon Corporation, the dam owner, to somehow clean it up.
Pushing to have their voices heard in Exelon’s application for a license renewal for the 86-year-old hydroelectric dam across the Susquehanna River just before it dumps into the upper reaches of the Chesaepake Bay, is a small army of individuals and organizations which claim, collectively that Exelon should be required to mitigate, or pledge to mitigate that sediment as part of the license renewal.
Michael Bruce, director of the Resource Assessment Service of the Maryland Department Natural Resources, provided an update in the long and winding license renewal process.
Exelon submitted its Water Quality Certification application to Maryland Department of the Environment on Jan. 30, Bruce said.
MDE has until Jan. 30, 2015 to either approve or deny the application. No public hearings have been scheduled at this time, Bruce added.
The draft of the Environmenal Impact Statement by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is due on July 30.
The existing Conowingo Dam hydroelectric facility license will expire on Sept. 1.
FERC will issue a temporary license until the EIS is finalized and 401 WQC application is approved or waived, Bruce said.
DNR, the Maryand Department of the Environment and “various stakeholders are actively negotiating” with Exelon on all Conowingo Dam relicensing issues including addressing sediments behind Conowingo Dam, fish passage, flow, debris management, land use, and recreation.
All issues will be addressed through the relicensing process, Bruce said.
That small army of stakeholders lined up to be heard at the relicensing hearings including  the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, the Clean Chesapeake Coalition, a group of officials of  eight Maryland counties; the Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper Michael Gelfrich and 100 groups or individuals from the Stewards of the Lower Susquehanna, and  the Waterkeepers Chesapeake.
The Conowingo  Dam produces up to 573 megawatts of power. Its current license was issued in August of 1980.
The U.S. Geological Survey says that because of the sediment piled up behind the dam — estimated to weigh as much as 2,000 aircraft carriers —  the dam can no longer capture even 50 percent of the sentiment flowing down the river.
Lower Susquahanna Riverkeeper Helfrich had this assessment.
“The fact is that they created a ‘storage facility’ that traps the pollutants and then releases these pollutants in quantities that would otherwise not have entered the Bay.
“During Tropical Storm Agnes, the Susquehanna delivered three times the amount of pollution to the Bay than it would have if Safe Harbor, Holtwood and the Conowingo dams didn’t exist.
“This unnatural release of pollutants is why we believe that Exelon needs to take some responsibility for the cost of cleaning up the sediment behind their dam.”
Exelon does not take that responsibility.
It argues that it built the dam and the dam is producing the amount of electric power it was designed and built to produce.
The company says it has no responsibility for what comes down the river.