Property Rights Foundation of America®
Founded 1994

Carol W. LaGrasse, from Positions on Property, Vol. 4, No. 1, Nov.-Dec. 1998

Dam Relicensing - A Crucial Arena of Environmental Activism

“Land for Dams,” Habitat Protections, and Dam Removal

The Time for Property Owners and Local Officials to Get Involved

During the next 15 years, 550 dams are up for re-licensing by the Federal Government. Environmentalists often oppose dams and would like to see many of those already in existence torn down. They realized early that they could participate in relicensing as “intervenors.”

American Rivers, an environmental organization prominently associated with President Clinton’s establishment of the American Heritage Rivers program, crusades for the high-pressure input of environmentalists in the process of re-licensing dams. By becoming intervenors, the environmentalists in American Rivers’ “Hydropower Reform Coalition” have succeeded in obstructing the renewal of licenses for hydroelectric plants while imposing costly added measures and even the destructive environmental mandate that a dam be entirely removed. American Rivers trains environmentalists to intervene in the FERC, or Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, re-licensing process, and instructs them in the goals they should seek to achieve. Fish and wildlife, and certain recreation such as river rafting, are far worthier values to these environmentalists than the rural economy, tax base, non-polluting electric power and lake recreation.

According to American Rivers, “If on balance the non-power river impacts of the dam outweigh the power benefits of the dam, we seek to prevent the dam from being built, or if the dam is in place and is undergoing relicensing, we seek to have the license application denied and the dam removed.”(1)

In Maine, environmentalists led by American Rivers and Trout Unlimited have triumphed in the re-licensing process for the Edwards Dam on the Kennebec River in Augusta, Maine. It is scheduled for removal.

In settling litigation, the dam’s owner, Edwards Manufacturing Co., agreed to donate the 160-year old dam to the State of Maine and make a grant of $100,000 to the City of Augusta for redevelopment of the site. The State will remove the dam at a cost of $2 million to $6.5 million, but Bath Iron Works agreed to donate $2.5 million to the National Fish and Wildlife Federation toward the dam removal and fisheries enhancement. FERC, by a 2-1 vote, had told Edwards to remove the dam, the first ever such federal order. But Edwards contested the order. Because the case was resolved in a settlement, FERC’s power to order dams to be removed and to order owners to pay for their removal is unresolved.

In New York, environmental intervenors in a consortium including American Rivers, the Association for Protection of the Adirondacks, Residents’ Committee for Protection of the Adirondacks, National Audubon Society, Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter and Natural Heritage Institute (an international not-profit environmental legal action organization) have succeeded in their arrogant demands for the disposition of 15,000 acres of lands of Niagara Mohawk Power Corporation in the Raquette River basin in Hamilton County.

It is expected that the bulk of the title to 8,000 acres will be transferred to the State as conservation easements. In addition, Niagara Mohawk is deeding 1,000 acres outright to the State and the nation’s wealthiest environmental group,The Nature Conservancy, in a split title assigning habitat management easements to the land trust.

But in Coos County, New Hampshire, Gorham Town Selectman Mike Waddell led local elected officials to intervene when three dams on the Androscoggin River were up for relicensing. They fought off the demands of environmentalists for their typical goal of a lands for dams trade. By intervening, the Town of Gorham defended jobs and property values connected to two dams then owned by James River Company (now Crown Vantage) and a third dam owned by the Public Service Company of New Hampshire. In 1992, when Gorham intervened, the town valuation of the dams was $18 million . Two more towns, Shelburne and Berlin, joined as intervenors. “The environmental groups didn’t get anything they wanted,” according to Mike Waddell, “Instead, they got a revolt along the river valley, which they can’t deal with.” (2)

Betty Beaver, a Hot Springs, Arkansas woman of American Indian descent, who has testified before the U.S. House of Representatives against American Heritage Rivers, represents private property owners on the team convened by Entergy (formerly Arkansas Power and Light) under the new alternative FERC relicensing procedure for the Remmel and Carpenter dams on the Ouachita River in Arkansas.

The alternative approach is designed to bring potentially conflicting interests from fish and wildlife agencies and environmental groups to property owners and local government together early in the scoping process of preparing the license application and environmental analysis.
In northern New York, property rights activists have become involved in participating in the FERC process for the Rainbow Falls dam owned by New York State Electric and Gas Corporation on the Ausable River, which is up for relicensing in 2002.

The tide is turning. Where once the outside “stakeholders” and formal intervenor party status for interests who were not directly involved as dam or reservoir bottomland owners was almost entirely controlled by groups affiliated with American Rivers, now concerned citizens, property rights groups and local elected officials are entering the process to bring balance and traditional American values to the deliberations.

The step-by-step process outlined separately (How to Become a Formal Participant & Intervenor in the FERC Dam Relicensing Process) provides for the same degree of effective participation by concerned citizens, property rights groups, other civic-minded groups and local officials, as has been exclusively enjoyed by radical environmental groups tutored by American Rivers. In addition, further information is available from FERC and the Property Rights Foundation of America.

Rivers and riverine areas are subjected to intense pressure by environmentalists. Extreme environmentalists and elites are advancing their goals of rural depopulation and upscaling the cost of rural habitation so that only the well-to-do can live beyond the bounds of cities and suburbs. Citizens and local officials who are committed to the defense of private property rights and the economic future of rural America have an opportunity help to restore sanity to the FERC dam re-licensing process.

(1) “American Rivers Role in Hydropower” (American Rivers home page, Oct. 20, 1998) p.1
(2) Mike Waddell, PRFA interview, Oct. 28, 1998

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