EASTON — Dorchester and Caroline counties’ commissioners are urging Talbot County Council to join the Clean Chesapeake Coalition in its fight to hold Exelon Power accountable for what it says are pollutants making their way into the Bay from the reservoir overflowing with sediment at the Conowingo Dam.
The coalition, which is made up of representatives from Cecil, Kent, Caroline, Dorchester, Carroll, Frederick and Allegany counties, said they hope to get all of Maryland’s counties on board to improve the quality of the Chesapeake Bay waters in a “prudent and fiscally responsible manner.”
Early in July 2013, the group filed a motion before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to intervene in the relicensing process of the dam to Exelon. The group’s members said they believe Exelon has a responsibility to dredge the reservoir, but has yet to act on a growing — and solvable — problem.
“None of us deny that the Bay is in trouble,” said Kent County Administrator Ernie Crowfoot. “Our biggest issue is that the major player — the Conowingo pool and the dam operated by Exelon — is a significant contributor, by more than half, of what’s going on (in the Bay) and it is affecting all of us: all of your constituents and all of our constituents. It’s going to affect the watermen, it’s going to affect the farmers, it’s going to affect whether or not you can have a septic system, it’s going to affect the housing industry. It’s a carryover that affects all of us and all of the businesses in our counties, and Exelon is going unscathed in this matter.”
According to the coalition, relicensing Exelon to operate the Conowingo Dam for another 46 years as the contract is currently written would not be fiscally responsible because of the dam’s recent inability to block sediment from entering Bay waters from the Susquehanna River.
The coalition is asking the FERC to include conditions in the upcoming contract to enforce dredging the dam’s reservoir. According to the coalition, U.S. Geological Survey scientists have determined the reservoir can no longer trap close to the quantity of sediment and phosphorus assumed by the Environmental Protection Agency, because the dam is more than 80 years old and has never been dredged or maintained.
The cost of dredging the reservoir today, which the coalition estimates would take around 400,000 dump truckloads to clear, could be as much as $85 a truckload. Crowfoot suggested the burden of the cleanup be shared by everyone involved, especially those residents who use the power grid maintained by Exelon and the Conowingo Dam.
“We could spread the cost of dredging to the people who use the grid,” said Crowfoot. “Then again, if we could get Pennsylvania to stop their runoff, there wouldn’t be a problem.”
Crowfoot told the council the coalition would like to work in conjunction with the Maryland Association of Counties to produce legislation and regulations that “will spread the cleanup work out among all the players differently, so that the agricultural community, the homebuilding community, the municipalities, and the counties that can’t afford the entire cost of (Watershed Implementation Plans), will see those costs spread over a larger group.”
Dorchester County Council and Clean Chesapeake Coalition member Thomas Bradshaw said the group has been working with Resource Conservation and Development for Delmarva member Dave Wilson on a plan to pipe the Conowingo’s sediment to unused gravel pits in North East, Pa.
County council members asked the coalition’s representatives what needed to happen next.
“The FERC hasn’t been asking the question all along about dredging the reservoir before relicensing (Exelon)? It had to come from you all?” said Laura Price.
“This is a 100-year sediment pond, and it’s full,” Bradshaw said. “When they designed it, I don’t know if they had the foresight to think, ‘You know, 50 years from now, we will need to do something with what’s trapped behind (the dam) and clean it out.’ It has been a blessing, but a curse to the Bay as well.”
Crowfoot told the council the group has been joined by 18 riverkeepers in the motion to intervene in the relicensing.
“They see the problem very similarly to how we see the problem,” said Crowfoot. “The cause is just, the cause is right. It’s financial; it’s economical. The right thing to do is to get everyone involved to the table and make them fix what’s wrong. It’s just not right that we have to clean up for a company that’s making billions of dollars in the electrical industry.”
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