Concern for salmon habitat continues Clyde River debate

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(Host) Two environmental groups say a recent ruling by the Water Resources Board will harm salmon habitat in the Clyde River near Newport. The Vermont Natural Resources Council has asked the board to reconsider its recent decision that allows the utility to reduce stream flows. But the utility’s lawyer says the board’s decision goes a long way to improve water quality in the river.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) The controversy over the Clyde River has raged for almost a decade. In 1994, flood waters breached a dam near Newport that for years had diverted water from a section of the river used by landlocked salmon. Anglers rejoiced when the utility decided not to rebuild that facility.

But the next fight was over another dam upstream that also reduced the amount of water that covers salmon spawning grounds. Citizens Communications, the utility that owns the dam, needed a state water quality permit in order to get a new license to operate the dam.

The state Agency of Natural Resources issued a permit that officials said would allow the utility to generate power and would also protect water quality. But the state’s own biologists objected. And two environmental groups appealed to the Water Resources Board.

Two weeks ago, the board issued a new permit that allows reduced flows in an area that could be used by spawning fish. The environmentalists want the board to reconsider. Kelly Lowry represents Trout Unlimited and the Vermont Natural Resources Council.

(Lowry) “We think it’s an exceptional resource that needs protection in the future. The fact is the river has been monopolized for a long period of time for the production of power. This is the first opportunity that the state of Vermont has to apply standards that look at something other than power production. And it may be the only real chance in Vermont for a self-sustaining salmon fishery. And we should not pass this up.”

(Dillon) Lowry argues that the board’s decision means 1,800 feet of river won’t have enough water for the fish to spawn.

(Lowry) “In reading the decision, it occurred to me that the board created a sacrifice zone. They’ve created 1,800 feet of river within which only good habitat will be provided, when the law requires high quality habitat.”

(Dillon) But Barbara Ripley, a former state Natural Resources secretary who now represents the utility, says the board’s decision provides strong habitat protection. According to Ripley, the board simply recognized the stream is affected by the utility’s hydropower development. But she says the utility will truck fish around one section of river to new spawning habitat.

(Ripley) “This license allows it to at least continue to operate. But it also puts in place a lot of environmental enhancements that don’t exist there. There are guaranteed minimum flows throughout that river system that wasn’t there before. There’s going to be trap and truck. There’s going to be fish moved and gaining access to the upper Clyde for spawning – a whole host of things that have not been in place before.”

(Dillon) Citizens Communications wants to sell the dam, and the company wants a new license to make the project more attractive to buyers. But this latest round may not be the end of the litigation. The environmentalists are considering an appeal if they lose at the Water Resources Board.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.

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