The Kent County Commissioners on Tuesday heard from Clean Chesapeake Coalition attorney, Charles “Chip” MacLeod of Funk & Bolton, on efforts underway to force the cleanup of the Conowingo Dam – located near the mouth of the Susquehanna River – and the source of half the sediment and nutrient pollution into Chesapeake Bay annually.
The seven-county coalition, chaired by Kent County Commissioner Ron Fithian, was formed last fall to challenge the science of the EPA’s Total Maximum Daily Load mandates in the state’s Watershed Implementation Plans. The CCC’s mission is to lower the $14.5 billion price tag to local governments by securing a multistate commitment to dredge the dam.
Coalitions members say the WIP would place exorbitant costs on taxpayers living below the dam and force local governments to significantly raise taxes and other fees.
The CCC further maintains that the WIP plan doesn’t steer a dime of resources towards reducing the 185 million tons of nutrient and sediment that menaces precariously behind the dam.
With exception of some studies, no Bay impacting state has ever spent or budgeted any money to physically reduce the sediment and nutrients behind the dam, MacLeod said.
The dam has released up to 49 millions of tons of sediment during major storm events – in addition to the 2.5 million tons of annual sediment discharge that occurs without storm events.
Scientists have amplified their warnings in recent years that massive hemorrhages from the dam will become more frequent during storms events because the dam is rapidly approaching its storage capacity of 204 million tons.
MacLeod said that the current WIP plan allocates the most dollars towards the least effective cleanup measures.
The plan estimates $3.71 billion to reduce just 7,440 tons of nitrogen from septic systems over the next 12 years – at a cost over $249 a pound.
The $7.38 billion associated with stormwater programs spikes even more to $280 a pound to remove just 13,200 tons of nitrogen over 12 years.
Over the same period, the $928 million estimated for agricultural programs will reduce 28,000 pounds of nitrogen at just $16 a pound.
“The costs are actually inverted,” MacLeod said. “The most expensive activity of regulating stormwater is going to get you the least amount of nitrogen reduction as far as improving water quality in the Chesapeake Bay.”
These three activities will reduce 49,000 tons of nitrogen in the Bay over 12 years, but MacLeod pointed out that the Conowingo released 42,000 tons of nitrogen into the Bay during Tropical Storm Lee — in just a nine days.
MacLeod said these costly local investments downstream from the dam would be “rendered worthless each time the watershed experiences a major storm event.”
Currently there are no published or legislated plans to reduce the 670,000 tons of nitrogen that has backed up at the dam since it its construction in 1928.
MacLeod spoke with the Spy after his presentation on what he thinks it will take to increase storage capacity and get cooperation from northern Bay states. He said mitigating the sediment and nutrients behind the dam would cost just a penny a pound. He says that Maryland so far has contributed more than any other state to Bay cleanup — and that it is now time for New York and Pennsylvania to help dredge the Conowingo. The video is about seven minutes.
MacLeod said the time to cut a deal is now because the dam’s operator, Exelon Energy Corporation, is trying to renew its operating license with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for the next 46 years.
The CCC has been barred from participating in Exelon’s relicensing negotiations that are ongoing with 23 unnamed stakeholders. In February, CCC Chairman Ron Fithian sent a letter to FERC requesting seat at the table.
“The Coalition respectfully requests an opportunity to coordinate with FERC officials with respect to the relicensing of Exelon’s Conowingo Hydroelectric project and the relicensing of other hydroelectric dams along the Susquehanna Reservoir. Section 204 of President Obama’s Executive Order 13508 (May 12, 2009) provides that in preparing strategies to the restore the Bay, federal agencies, such as FERC, are to closely coordinate with local agencies for the benefit of the Bay’s water quality and ecosystem and habitat health and vitality.”
FERC’s response on March 29
“While staff is interested in your views and urge you to file any comments that you have, as a rule, staff does not meet separately with interested entities during the licensing process. Although we do not meet separately with interested entities, the Commission’s integrated licensing process provides numerous opportunities for stakeholder input. The integrated licensing process that Exelon began in March 2009 provided a number of opportunities for stakeholder involvement, including public scoping meetings and site visits, study plan meetings, study report meetings, and comments on the draft license application. Although Exelon filed its final license application in August 2012, there will continue to be opportunities to provide comments, including when we issue the notice that the application is ready for environmental analysis and the draft environmental document prepared pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act. Please note that your letter has been placed in the public record and we will consider your concerns as we conduct our environmental analysis.”
The CCC’s response dated April 3
Preliminarily, we are not an “interested entity.” The coalition members are local governments that have been provided the authority to engage in land use planning, to engage in watershed implementation planning, to adopt and enforce laws and rules relative to environmental impacts to the Chesapeake Bay and Bay tributaries, and to tax our citizens in order to fund Bay restoration endeavors. We are and remain concerned that FERC cannot coordinate or cooperate with us in those hopefully mutual endeavors if it refuses to meet with us and to obtain our input.
Since September 2012, we have not had any opportunity to provide input into the relicensing process. We have communicated with Emily Carter on a number of occasions to inquire how we might have input in the relicensing process. Ms. Carter, who has been very polite and responsive, has told us that we should not intervene until after FERC issues the “ready for environmental analysis notice.” She further advised that information submitted before the “ready for environmental analysis notice” would not be considered until after that notice is issued. Our concern, particularly in light of recent developments, is that at that late juncture, our input will be meaningless.”
The series of letters follows an initial correspondence from the CCC last fall that called out Exelon’s misuse of data published by the US Geological Survey in a report on sediment movement that was conducted by an engineering firm contracted by the power company.
Michael Langland of USGS told Exelon and their engineers that the conclusions reached in the report were “flawed” because of the misuse of his data.
Maryland’s WIP plan was the result of a lawsuit won by Chesapeake Bay Foundation in 2010 that compelled the EPA to enforce the 1972 Clean Water Act. Under a consent decree, states in the Chesapeake Watershed, from New York to Virginia, were required to submit a WIP plan to the EPA that brought the Bay into compliance with the Clean Water Act by 2025.
Chesapeake Bay Foundation, the principal architect of the cleanup plans has been on the offensive with the CCC since its inception last fall. They feel the focus on the Conowingo Dam ignores long term benefits of local cleanup efforts and they have accused MacLeod of choreographing a great lie to obfuscate local responsibility for Bay cleanup.
CBF says following through with local WIP plans in the Watershed States of New York and Pennsylvania will eventually reduce the amount of sediment and nutrients backing up at the dam by stopping the runoff from the source. But MacLeod insists that New York and Pennsylvania are still struggling with a way forward with their WIP plans and won’t decide anything in time to stop the dam from maxing out its storage capacity.
He said major storm events will continue to jettison toxic sediment and nutrients into the Bay until the dam is dredged.
Currently there is not one working oysterman in the northern third of the Bay — where spills have had the most devastating effects on oysters and aquatic grasses.
CBF Maryland Communications Coordinator Tom Zolper said that the sticker price on Bay cleanup is coming down through “innovation and cooperation.”
“Many jurisdictions around the Bay have dramatically reduced their initial cost estimates once they started to examine their particular pollution problems and potential solutions, including Talbot County, Frederick County, Lancaster City, PA, and Falls Church, VA,” Zolper said in an email to the Spy on Friday. “We expect that will be the trend going forward in many jurisdictions. Talbot County, for instance, has officially revised one part of its WIP cost estimate downward from $500 million to $10 million. The common thread in these jurisdictions is they decided to cooperate with rather than fight the regional plan to clean up water pollution.”
“Talbot worked with CBF, The Nature Conservancy and government agencies to devise an innovative plan to use existing farm and road-side ditches to treat polluted runoff at a dramatically reduced cost than traditional stormwater management upgrades which were originally contemplated,” he said.
“Other Eastern Shore counties have also decided that cooperation is a better path to cost effective pollution reduction,” Zolper said. “In Wicomico County, local clean water groups worked with the county to identify the most cost-effective locations to use pollution reduction technology. The county then authorized $200,000 in spending for these projects.”
MacLeod’s presentation comes a week before a final vote on Kent County’s 2014 budget that allocates a $25,000 retainer to Funk & Bolton for a second straight year. Other member counties will contribute in different amounts. The firm is looking for $300,000 for the next fiscal year.
MacLeod said the CCC has until the end of the month to file as an intervener in the FERC relicensing process.