Officials demand FERC act on ‘useless’ Kinneytown Hydroelectric Dam

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Waterbury Mayor Neil M. O’Leary at a news conference Monday, June 6 discussing the importance of fish migration within the Naugatuck river. Photos via Republican-American

By Martin Begnal Republican-American

SEYMOUR — Officials and environmental groups Monday, June 6 called on the owners of a hydroelectric dam on the Naugatuck River that hasn’t produced a single watt of energy in two years and has never allowed fish to migrate upriver, to either fix it or walk away.

Standing in front of the rusting and shuttered Kinneytown Hydroelectric Dam, local, state, and federal officials also expressed frustration with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for failing to hold Hydroland Corp., described as the dam’s “absentee owners,” to live up to the terms of its agreement which allows it to operate.

“If Hydroland can’t meet the standards for continuing with its license exemption to operate, I’m calling for action to begin right away to revoke that license exemption. It’s not operating anyway, it’s offline,” U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said.

“It’s not generating any electricity. It’s useless, all it does is prevent fish from getting upriver and that is why action needs to start right now.”

The Kinneytown Dam is the last piece of a long-term project to rehabilitate the Naugatuck River from its days when it served the local industry first as a source of power, then for more than a century as a dump for its waste.

But, environmentalists say, the river has made a great comeback. While politicians urged Hydroland and FERC to take action, an osprey circled over the river and a great blue heron stood on the banks.

Despite the wildlife nearby, Kevin Zak of the Naugatuck River Revival Group said many fish die attempting to get past the Kinneytown Dam and thousands of others – including salmon and American shad – are blocked from their spawning runs to the upper reaches of the Naugatuck River.

Public officials are urging FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) to crack down on Hydroland as a result of their lack of communication and action on the Kinneytown Dam.

Officials say this not only violates Hydroland’s agreement and is damaging to the environment, it keeps away fishermen and the dollars they can bring.

“The failure to institute a fish ladder has ramifications up and down the river, on wildlife, the environmental ecosystem and on recreation and ultimately, on the economy,” said Blumenthal, a Democrat. “Hydroland is failing not only our wildlife and environment, but also local economic progress, because people are not going to come here to fish if there are no fish.”

Rick Dunne, executive director of the Naugatuck Valley Council of Governments, said the original agreement to operate the hydroelectric plant was made in 1993 with the understanding that they would construct a fish ladder so fish could migrate upriver.

“And they’ve utterly failed to do that from the beginning. They’ve never passed more than a few fish ever. The fish ladder doesn’t work. It’s never really worked,” Dunne said. “The worst part of this is the trade-off to the public and to the public trust is that they’re supposed to be generating hydropower, but they haven’t generated any hydropower.”

Hydroland, which Dunne described as a group of investors, bought Kinneytown and 12 other hydroelectric projects around the country in 2020.

A message left Monday afternoon at the Washington State offices of Hydroland was not immediately returned.

The Kinneytown Dam’s fish ladder does not work according to Governemnt officials and local leaders. This is the second year where fish have no been able to get over the dam which will harm its population.

Seymour First Selectwoman Annmarie Drugonis accused Hydroland of not only flouting the law, but that they distort the truth. “They neglected instead of restored, and provided no energy instead of green energy.”

Waterbury Mayor Neil M. O’Leary called on FERC to increase the penalties on Hydroland for its inaction.

“They haven’t done a single thing that FERC has asked them to do,” O’Leary said. “And FERC has the power and the authority to come down hard on Hydroland. And frankly, they have not at this point. FERC needs to much more putative.”

FERC compliance officer Andrea Claros, who has been working on the Kinneytown project, referred questions to a FERC spokeswoman, who did not immediately return a call.

Congresswoman Rosa DeLaura, D-3rd District, said “promise after promise, are just empty promises. And that’s been followed by excuse after excuse. Enough is enough. FERC needs to start being much more aggressive.”

Also applying pressure on Hydroland and FERC were Ansonia Mayor David Cassetti; former state representative and current candidate for U.S. Senate Themis Klarides; and State Rep. Geraldo Reyes, D-75th.