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Town seeks delay in review of hydro plan

MIDDLEBURY — The town of Middlebury has asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to dismiss Middlebury Electric LLC’s (ME) draft license application for a small hydroelectric plant at the Otter Creek falls until ME has had more interaction with the town on its proposal.
The request is contained in a Feb. 3 letter and brief submitted to FERC Secretary Kimberly Bose by attorney Matthew Manahan, a Portland, Maine, attorney the Middlebury selectboard has hired to represent the town’s interests.
“The town is in favor of renewable energy development and supports the concept of a hydroelectric facility at Middlebury Falls, as long as the project is developed and operated in a responsible and safe manner that recognizes and preserves the unique cultural, recreational, historical and aesthetic importance of the falls and the surrounding downtown area,” the letter to Bose reads. “The town has found it necessary to take an active role in this proceeding to ensure that the town citizens have a meaningful opportunity to participate and have their interests and concerns taken into account.”
Anders Holm and his family are spearheading the $3.3 million ME project, which calls for installation of a water turbine that would harness electricity from the creek as it flows through a flume under a Holms-owned building that borders the south side of the Otter Creek falls. It is a project that could generate around 1.6 megawatts of electricity — enough to power roughly 1,000 homes.
It was last October that FERC agreed to use the “Traditional Licensing Process (TLP)” in its review of the ME project. Town officials had opposed the use of a TLP review, urging FERC to instead use the more comprehensive “Integrated Licensing Process.”
Middlebury Electric filed a draft license application with FERC on Jan. 17 of this year, but the town contends that ME did not undertake “first stage consultation” (as required by the TLP review process) prior to its filing.
The first stage consultation process, according to Manahan, requires that the applicant hold a joint meeting, including site visit, with “all pertinent agencies, Indian tribes, and members of the public to explain the applicant’s proposal and its potential environmental impact, to review the information provided, and to discuss the data to be obtained and studies to be conducted by the potential applicant as part of the consultation process.”
Manahan contends ME failed to meet FERC’s prescribed timeline for the joint meeting, nor did it provide the requisite materials — including detailed maps showing project boundaries, a general engineering design of the proposed project, identification of the surrounding environment that would be affected and other meetings — for the meeting.
“ME has failed to comply with any of these first stage consultation requirements,” Manahan alleged in his letter. “Instead, ME has jumped straight to second stage ‘consultation’ by filing its DLA without any consultation at all involving the public or the town. The town is still entirely in the dark about the specifics of the project.”
Issues remaining unresolved, according to the town, include:
• The potential impact of the project on the aesthetics of the falls and surrounding area.
• Potential impacts on fisheries and other aquatic resources.
• Water quality concerns, particularly regarding the level of dissolved oxygen downstream of the proposed project.
• The question of how the project would recognize town water rights.
• Potential construction impacts on surrounding historic and recreational resources.
• The question of how the project would comply with local zoning.
Manahan is asking that FERC render a decision on its request no later than March 16.
Anders Holm sent a letter to the FERC secretary on Feb. 5 contesting the town’s request that FERC dismiss the Otter Creek falls draft license application.
Holm contends that the hydro proposal was explained to town officials during a series of mediated sessions, public meetings and through the public display of site plans.
The mediated sessions, conducted by consultant Dave Hallam, featured review of site plans, project impact, aesthetics, schedule, line-level diagrams of the site, and water rights and ownership issues, according to Holm.
“Based on these formal, detailed discussions, the town felt it appropriate to draft a Partnership Agreement with Middlebury Electric,” Holm wrote in his letter. “This was based upon the consultation materials made available as well as the result of negotiation.”
Holm contended that ME “sought to have a public meeting with the town and relevant parties as part of the TLP process. To be clear: ME attempted repeatedly to schedule meetings prior to the TLP submission. We were disappointed that the Town made no response to our requests.”
Holm said the “aggressive stance” the town is showing vis-à-vis the project “contradicts the many years of progress the project has enjoyed.”
Holm also served notice that ME is committed to pursuing the hydro project.
“Should the Select Board’s legal team’s efforts … be successful in dismissing our application, we will reapply,” Holm wrote. “This will represent yet another large delay in the process to the detriment of the residents of Middlebury.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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