July 26, 2008

Deadline for Citizen Input on Appalachian Relicensing Nears

By Laurie Edwards

The Department of Environmental Quality currently is reviewing Appalachian Power's permit application to continue operating the Smith Mountain Project, a hydroelectric powerhouse consisting of Smith Mountain and Leesville dams.

The application is part of Appalachian's relicensing process through Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The current license expires in 2010.

Joe Hassel of DEQ will lead a public hearing on Aug. 7 from 7 to 9:30 p.m. at Gretna High School to generate community input. Citizens have had since 2002 to offer suggestions and comments about the relicensing. The meeting is one of several that have been held as part of the relicensing process.

Russ Johnson, Franklin County supervisor, is encouraging lake residents to attend the meeting to ensure DEQ will take into account potential increased needs for public drinking water, as well as safety on the lake when water levels drop because of drought.

Under Appalachian's current license, the power company is required to release 650 cubic feet per second downstream, said John Shepelwich, a spokesman for Appalachian. When inflow is less than 650 cfs, as it is now, the company can apply to DEQ for a short- term (45-day) variance to lower outflow.

"I sent a letter to DEQ this morning requesting a reduction in that flow," said Teresa Rogers, the Smith Mountain Project's reservoir superintendant, on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, inflow was 201 cfs, she said. On Wednesday morning, it was 459 cfs. If the low inflow continues beyond the 45-day variance, Rogers said Appalachian can apply for a long-term variance with FERC.

Johnson said he'd like to see a variance within Appalachian's new license that kicks in when water levels approach 792 feet, or three feet below full pond, when it becomes more difficult for marine fire and rescue crews to navigate the lake and respond to emergencies.

"When the level of the lake begins to approach the 792 [foot] level, we would like to switch the release formula to input equals output," he said. "They do that and what happens, happens by nature."

The water management plan included in Appalachian's application is based on biological and recreation studies, said Rogers. New to the plan is a "trigger model," which allows Appalachian employees to look at historic and seasonal information to prepare for low inflows so safe lake levels can be maintained, she said.

On July 14, Appalachian responded to FERC's request for additional information. Deadline for filing comments, motions to intervene and protests to FERC is Aug. 11.

Chuck Neudorfer, chairman of the Tri-County Lake Administrative Commission, was not available for comment.

View the relicensing application and revised management plans online at smithmtn.com. For more information about the relicensing process, visit www.ferc.gov.

LAURIE EDWARDS | Laker Weekly 721.4675 (ext. 406)

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