Elk Rapids Hydro Dam Update from Mark Stone, Antrim County Drain Commissioner
As many of you are aware, we held our Public Meeting and the Agency/Stakeholder Meeting on April 19 and 20. It‘s fair to say that we accomplished everything we set out to do and more. This is in great part due to the efforts of the ESLA Board and the many members who appeared at either or both of the events. So let me begin by offering my thanks to everyone that participated.
The meetings are required by FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) to allow the applicant, in this case the County, to lay out the reason why our facility should be granted a new license. The meetings come at the beginning of the five year long licensing process and also allow other parties, especially government agencies, to weigh in and identify what important issues they would like to see addressed over the licensing process.
Typically, a hydro relicensing is a contentious process. However, in our case our local community had examined and resolved most of the critical issues by reaching out to the agencies ahead of time and arriving at a consensus among ourselves. More than once I heard the comment from our out of town guests that this may have been the most unusual Agency/Stakeholder Meeting they had ever attended for the simple reason that we had already covered so much ground so early in the process.
At least 70 people showed up for the Public Meeting on Monday. After an abbreviated presentation of the PAD (Pre-Application Document) there was a vigorous question and answer period. Many issues were raised, such as the quality of the fishing at the dam and the low water flows currently in the watershed. The FERC representatives also addressed the gathering directly to explain some of the more arcane elements of the licensing process.
Attendees of both meetings were offered blank forms to provide a written statement for the official record. We collected dozens of these forms submitted by residents—some were a couple of pages in length. It may come as no surprise, but each submission was a variation on the same theme: “help us keep the hydro operating!” This did not escape the attention of the FERC representatives. As one expressed to me, he wasn‘t accustomed to seeing such a strong connection between a community and a dam. Not a bad job for a little town in Northern Michigan.
The Stakeholder Meeting featured a more in-depth presentation from our team, then after lunch, it was the government agencies‘ turn to weigh in. Kyle Kruger, from the Fisheries Division of MDNRE, spoke on behalf of several agencies. His message was clear: Antrim County had done their homework and addressed all the main issues with a solid strategy, so the Agencies were willing to work with us. Then, several representatives of our local community organizations rose to voice support for the project. While there were a number of excellent suggestions to improve our facility, all the comments supported the granting of the license.
The public comment period has now closed. If there were any major obstacles to face over the licensing, they should have been raised by now. Nevertheless, fifteen years in local politics has taught me to be cautious. So, I‘m cautiously optimistic we will reach our goal. On the other hand, I‘m unabashedly proud of our community‘s ability to raise ourselves up to high standard. We‘ve accomplished all this with our own resources—no outside consultants, no huge expenditures—a true David and Goliath effort.