Lawmakers demand action against dam owner

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By Michael Puffer, Republican-American

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., speaks Oct. 22 in Seymour during a news conference highlighting legislative pressure to revoke a federal exemption for permitting for a dam on the Naugatuck River and associated hydroelectric facilities. -MICHAEL PUFFER/REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN

SEYMOUR — Federal lawmakers representing Connecticut are demanding federal authorities act against the owner of a dam blocking passage of fish to the Naugatuck River.

Connecticut’s two U.S. senators and three U.S. representatives representing Naugatuck Valley towns sent a letter to Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Secretary Kimberly D. Bose on Oct. 21, urging the agency to revoke permitting for Kinneytown and two small associated hydroelectric plants in Ansonia and Seymour.

At the heart of the conflict is a 22-year-old fish ladder at the dam which officials and environmental advocates say is not working. Thousands of fish are blocked from spawning runs from Long Island Sound up the Housatonic River and then into the upper reaches of the Naugatuck River, according to environmental advocates.

“Morally, this dam is inexcusable,” U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said Oct. 22. “Environmentally, it is unacceptable. But, legally, it’s damn illegal because it’s out of compliance with a FERC order.”

FERC is the licensing authority for hydroelectric dams.

Blumenthal noted the dam owner, Hydroland Inc., failed to respond to FERC demands for short-term repairs ahead of this spring’s fish migration. Hydroland was supposed to follow up with plans for long-term repairs.

Hydroland CEO Cory Lagerstrom in October submitted a letter to FERC promising to take steps to restore the fish passage at the dam and get the two associated hydroelectric plants online.

Environmental advocates and local leaders, however, doubt Hydroland has the means or intent to fulfill its promises. Rather, they believe the company is playing for time to continue neglecting the dam and fish passage.

“What we are watching is a slow-motion abandonment of this site,” NVCOG Executive Director Rick Dunn said. “I don’t think any of us want to see this turned into another abandoned property, another brownfield.”

Save the Sound, Naugatuck River Revival Group and Naugatuck Valley Council of Governments filed a petition with FERC in September asking it to revoke a permitting exemption for the Kinneytown facilities. Lucey said this would require Hydroland to secure a new permit, which would allow the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to insist on a fully functional fish ladder.

The letter federal lawmakers sent to FERC’s head Oct. 21 supports that petition. The letter is signed by Blumenthal, U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn; U.S. Rep. Jahana Hayes, D-5th District; U.S. Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro, D-3rd District, and U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, D-4th District.

Blumenthal visited the Kinneytown Dam on Oct. 22 for a news conference calling attention to the demand. He was joined by Naugatuck Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess, Seymour First Selectman Annmarie Drugonis, Ansonia Mayor David S. Cassetti, Dunne, state Sen. Jorge Cabrera, D-17th District, and environmental advocates.

“We are the federal delegation,” Blumenthal said of the Oct. 21 letter. “We are asking this federal agency to take action now; not tomorrow, not a week from now. Now. Because that agency has ordered the owners to take action and they have just thumbed their nose at this federal agency, and they haven’t even responded.”

By coincidence, a Hydroland representative also was at the dam. A man claiming to be a Hydroland engineer, who only gave his first name, “Don,” opened a padlocked gate to give Blumenthal a quick tour of the facility.

Speaking on an opposite side of the fence, “Don” told reporters repairs depend on FERC approving the company’s plans.

“It is a certainty,” the engineer said. “As I said, we bought them with the intention of fixing them.”

After a quick tour of the Seymour hydro plant, Blumenthal said he believes the engineer’s assertion that the fish ladder could be repaired. However, Blumenthal said, that would require a “major investment.”

“But there’s no sign, none whatsoever, of actual work here,” he added, “and the time for talk is over.”