The Recorder – Connecticut River Conservancy hosts Portage Parade to advocate for accessibility of the river

TURNERS FALLS – The Connecticut River Conservancy will host a public portage parade event on Saturday to advocate for improved portage routes for paddlers around the Turners Falls Dam, one of many investments in recreational accessibility that the group seeks to benefit local communities.

The Greenfield-based organization is calling on all River Defenders to join them at 11:15 a.m. at Unity Park, at the back of the parking lot. Paddlers will arrive quickly if the level of the river allows it. According to a press release from the Connecticut River Conservancy, the event will begin with a press conference and follow with a public parade along what organizers are looking for as a shorter and improved porterage route.

This event occurs in light of the obstacles that hydroelectric facilities, including FirstLight locally, can create for river recreation. This discussion follows FirstLight’s request in December for its 50-year license renewal through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). While the company is still awaiting the renewal of the authorization, the outcome will determine how its facilities on the Connecticut River – two hydroelectric dams at Turners Falls and a hydroelectric plant at Northfield Mountain – will operate over the next 50 years.

Saturday’s press conference will provide an opportunity for stakeholders to discuss the issues between outdoor recreation and dam ownership, including the investments the Connecticut River Conservancy believes FirstLight should make as part of the process. the finalization of its new operating license. In addition to conservation staff, representatives from the Appalachian Mountain Club, American Whitewater, Adventure East and All Out Adventures will be in attendance.

The long portage for paddlers around Turners Falls is certainly a problem, said Angela Chaffee, Connecticut River Conservancy’s director of communications, but that’s just one example of FirstLight’s lack of substantive proposals.

“It would be really nice to have a portage walk around the dam,” said Andrea Donlon, steward of the Connecticut River Conservancy. “At this time, paddlers wishing to portage around the dam should exit the Gill side at Barton Cove and be led about 3 miles downstream.” The parade scheduled for Saturday will follow the cycle path that is part of their portage route project.

While FirstLight offers “long overdue” improvements to certain aspects of the accessibility of the river, including a proposed access point below the dam to the canal, “given their revenues, we believe that their investment in access to the river must be more than what they offered, ”said Donlon.

FirstLight claims to have proposed $ 130 million in additional spending for recreation and environmental stewardship. According to Len Greene, director of government affairs and communications for FirstLight, it is proposed to invest $ 5.6 million in the development of new recreation and improvement of existing recreation facilities.

Donlon noted that there will be a comment period for stakeholders and community members to write to FERC, the agency responsible for renewing licenses for FirstLight. It is important for people of all ages and abilities to tell the commission about their experiences on the river, she said, given that FirstLight’s final recreation plan was included in its license application without a draft. nor public comment.

Greene said by email on Thursday, however, that “Throughout this process we have had active and ongoing conversations with each of the cities and our other stakeholders to develop recreation proposals that would improve our community, promote tourism. , improve the health of the river. and maintain public safety. FirstLight welcomes suggestions from local stakeholders, said Greene.

The ability of FirstLight, with its current license, to alter river flow and levels so significantly is also a major concern for the Connecticut River Conservancy. The Northfield pump storage facility particularly fluctuates in river levels, Donlon said, which is detrimental not only to recreational activities on the river, but also to the wildlife that inhabit it.

“We encourage the public to get involved because this is their only chance to have a say,” said Chaffee, referring to the public review period for FirstLight’s license renewal. “We are hosting an event like this to engage the public in this conversation. “

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