Ft. Halifax Debate Closes with FERC's Final Order

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FERC's recent issuance of an order regarding the Ft. Halifax dam signaled at least a temporary end to a standing controversy over the Commission's responsibilities and obligations with respect to settlement agreements. On January 22, 2004, FERC issued its final order for the Ft. Halifax Project on the Sebasticook River upholding its original 1998 settlement that required dam removal in the absence of construction of a fish lift. The order was welcomed by HRC members and the Kennebec Coalition who argued FERC was responsible for keeping with the recommendations of state and federal fisheries agencies, and which upholds existing license conditions and agreements.

In a 1998 settlement, FPL Energy agreed to construct a fish lift by May 1, 2003 or pursue steps for dam removal. Seeking to avoid surrender of its license, FPL cited over $4 million in costs to install fish passage and $130,000 in annual operating and maintenance costs. Instead of implementing the requirements of the 1998 settlement, FPL argued for the installation of an alternative fish passage technology that would have allowed them to avoid partial dam removal.

Local landowners with homes on the impoundment also petitioned FERC to modify its fish passage requirements to allow use of an untested "fish pump" currently used to harvest fish in the aquaculture industry. State and federal fisheries experts, as well as the Kennebec Coalition, however, opposed use of this experimental technology.

In June 2002, FPL filed the surrender application. In July 2003, the Commission stayed the license instead of upholding the 1998 settlement agreement that would have required dam removal since FPL failed to install fish passage. Instead, the Commission order parties to the settlement to evaluate other less expensive alternative fish passage technologies.

In September 2003, the HRC wrote a letter to FERC expressing significant concerns about the Commission's stay of the Ft. Halifax license. HRC stated, "by failing to implement the plain terms of the agreement that the Commission itself approved five years ago, the Commission's order threatens not only the Fort Halifax settlement, but all past and future agreements as well."