CHESTERTOWN - The Clean Chesapeake Coalition filed a motion to intervene in the relicensing process of the Conowingo Dam, which is currently pending to be granted again to Exelon, before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
The coalition is made up of Kent, Caroline, Dorchester, Cecil, Carroll, Frederick and Allegany counties, and the objective of the group is to pursue improvement to water quality of the Chesapeake Bay in a prudent and fiscally responsible manner.
According to Kent County Commissioner and chairman of the coalition's executive committee Ron Fithian, relicensing Exelon to operate the Conowingo Dam for another 46 years as the contract is currently written would not be fiscally responsible because of the dam's recent inability to block sediment from entering Bay waters from the Susquehanna River.
“Unmanageable amounts of nutrients and sediments are being scoured from the Conowingo reservoir and flushed into the upper Bay during storm events,” Fithian said. “Local Watershed Implementation Plans will be difficult to justify and Maryland's Bay restoration efforts will continue to be undermined if this single largest source of pollution is not addressed during the FERC relicensing.”
In response, the coalition is asking FERC to include conditions in the contract to dredge the dam's reservoir, which, according to the coalition, U.S. Geological Survey scientists have determined can no longer trap close to the quantity of sediment and phosphorus assumed by the Environmental Protection Agency, or 55 percent, because the dam is more than 80 years old and has never been dredged or maintained.
Charles “Chip” MacLeod, an attorney with Funk & Bolton who represents the coalition, said, “Taxpayers are being asked to do a lot in the name of saving the Bay” in terms of Watershed Im[N]plementation Plans, but nobody is legally responsible for cleaning the sediment trapped in the reservoir.
“This is a once in a generation opportunity to get conditions to put on the way that dam is operated to take care of that sediments that's accumulating up there,” MacLeod said. “This is the perfect opportunity for everybody who cares about the Bay ... to push FERC and say, 'Please put conditions on that license that makes the owner do something.' This could be a turning point for the Bay.”
MacLeod said though the coalition doesn't doubt that pollution comes from local waterways, such as backyard creeks, streams and storm water runoffs that flow into the Bay, the coalition believes most of the pollution comes from the Susquehanna River.
“This is to get conditions to not only help the Bay, but protect investments made below the dam. We're worried that a lot of that just gets washed out or rendered meaningless. One big storm event and, boom, so much of what we're doing gets wiped out,” MacLeod said.