Lowell hydro plant opponents remain hopeful

The current is slow but steady for a proposed project that would see hydroelectric plants installed at six dams along the Muskingum River. But with no concrete start dates for construction, let alone completion, residents adjacent to at least one proposed project sites are still hoping to dam up the progress.

Residents of Lowell’s Buell Island are still fearful that a plant on the Lowell dam would adversely affect everything on their idyllic island home -from property values, to recreation, to ecology, and more.

The company behind the project, Boston-based renewable energy company Free Flow Power, Inc., says they have been working to address those concerns.

“There was a series of public meetings and inside meetings that took place last June. We spoke with many residents including the folks of Buell Island,” said Daniel Lissner, general counsel and spokesman for Free Flow Power.

Among other things, the company is in continued talks with the Ohio Historic Preservation Office and is developing a historic property management plan, said Lissner.

But island residents feel like their concerns are not being given the serious weight they deserve, said Jim Wilson, 61, who owns a cabin on the island that has been in his family for three generations.

“Everything is described as no impact or minimal impact. I don’t buy it,” said Wilson.

For example, the company likened the construction process of the power plant to the construction of the pool on the island years ago. But the eight new facilities proposed in the license permit would be a significantly bigger project with heavier equipment that would ruin the single chip and seal access road, said Wilson.

“They’re talking about heavy equipment for a year and a half,”he said.

Currently the project is awaiting an environmental assessment by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which must license the project, said Lissner.

FERC is ready to go forward with the assessment and is currently in a formal comment period, said FERC spokeswoman Celeste Miller.

“This provides an opportunity for resource agencies to provide their recommendations as well,” she said.

While the FERC assessment will obviously cover things like environmental impact, it will also be studying other concerns.

For example, if recreational impact has been raised as a concern, it will be addressed, said Miller.

Comments can be filed online at 1.usa.gov/1hH7UqE through March 15.

In addition to private citizens, comments and concerns have been already been filed by several organizations within the scope of the project, such as Friends of the Lower Muskingum and The Port O’Morgan Boat Club. The project would also include plants on the Beverly Lock and Dam, Devola Lock and Dam, Malta/McConnelsville Lock and Dam, Philo Lock and Dam and Rokeby Lock and Dam.

Wilson said residents are not happy with what answers they have gotten. For example, in order to minimize shore erosion in the tail stream, where the plant will eject water, the company plans to build up the shoreline with rip rap.

This would take away Wilson’s river access.

“You won’t be able to swim, fish, walk into the water and wade out,” he said of the change.

Lissner said the company would have to lease the rights to private land to be used or changed for the project. This would include affected shorelines, any property used for construction, or to install longterm power lines, he said.

But Wilson does not see residents allowing their property to be leased.

“If this goes through and FERC OK’s it, imminent domain would be an acceptable practice,” said Wilson, insinuating property owners could be forced to lease against their will.

Wilson and other residents hope to stop the project entirely, but do not know how.

“What the hell can we do about it?” asked Buell Island resident Larry Pritchard, 72.

The residents do not have the money to afford an attorney and continue to fear their private concerns will not be given weight when it comes down to licensing, he said.

“I tried to explain to them, there’s a current on this river that causes certain things,” said Pritchard.