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Great River Hydropower 401 Water Quality Certification Application

Background

Great River Hydroelectric (GRH) filed an amended license Application to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) on December 7, 2020 for the relicensing of Wilder Hydroelectric, Bellows falls Hydroelectric, and Vernon Hydroelectric facilities (collectively the Projects) located on the Connecticut River. As part of the Application to FERC, GRH is required to within 60 days of FERC noticing that the Application is ready for environmental analysis, apply for a Section 401 water quality certification from the State of Vermont. FERC issued a notice that the Projects were Ready for Environmental Analysis on February 22, 2024

The Department of Environmental Conservation (Department) within the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources (ANR) is responsible for assuring that hydroelectric projects conform with the Vermont Water Quality Standards (Standards). The Standards require that Vermont’s waters be managed to support several designated uses, including aquatic biota wildlife, aquatic habitat, aesthetics, and recreation.

If an application is administratively complete, the Department will issue a letter to the applicant indicating the date of receipt of the application and its administrative completeness. Section 401 of the federal Clean Water Act provides that a state must act on a request for certification within one year after receipt of the request, or the certification requirement shall be waived. 

A state’s 401 certification determination shall include a statement from the state that “there is a reasonable assurance that the activity will be conducted in a manner which will not violate applicable water quality standards.” 40 C.F.R § 121.2(a)(3); Environmental Protection Rules, Chapter § 13.11(g). Accordingly, the Department may set forth limitations and other requirements necessary for it to find that there is reasonable assurance that the activity and project will be operated in a manner which will not violate the Vermont Water Quality Standards. 

Application Process Updates

Vermont DEC will periodically update this section with important dates or information     

Project Overview

A map of southern Vermont and New Hampshire and Western Massachusetts.  Several dams are shown on the map and stretches of river are highlighted in red to show project impoundment.

The current licenses for Projects expired on April 30, 2019. FERC on May 9, 2019 authorized Great River Hydro to continue operation of each of the Projects until a subsequent license is issued. The amended final license Application proposes protection, mitigation, and enhancement (PME) measures as part of the next licensing term. GRH’s proposed PME measures include: 

  • Create more stable water surface elevation in the impoundments 
  • Reduce the magnitude and frequency of sub-daily changes in discharge from the stations, 
  • GRH proposed continuing to maintain and operate existing fish passage facilities 
  • Will operate the fishways as requested in Schedule of Operations letters issued annually by the Connecticut River Salmon Restoration Commission (CRASC)

Great River Hydro maintains a website that contains additional information on the Projects and efforts to date regarding the relicensing process. 

Great River Hydro, LLC Relicensing

401 Process

There are numerous opportunities for the public to engage with the Section 401 water quality certification process. 

Informational meeting

The Department is hosting three informational meetings. The purpose of the meetings is to answer questions related to the water quality certification applications and process. The Department also welcomes public feedback or additional data before issuing draft water quality certifications on the Projects.

Notice of Public Informational Meetings

Vernon Hydroelectric Project 
August 6, 2024 at 5:30 pm 
The Great Room in Thomas Hall 
Winston Prouty Center 
209 Austine Drive 
Brattleboro, Vermont 05301 

Wilder Hydroelectric Project 
August 7, 2024 at 5:30 pm 
Hartford Area Career and Technology Center 
1 Gifford Rd 
White River Junction, VT 05001 

Bellows Falls Hydroelectric Project 
August 8, 2024 at 5:30 pm 
Lower Theater in Town Hall 
#7 Village Square 
Bellows Falls, Vermont 05101

Additionally, the meeting can be joined via phone (+1 802-828-7667, 813920027#) or virtually (upon request). Persons having an interest in the projects and the affected waters are encouraged to attend and discuss the applications. Copies of the Water Quality Standards are available by mail or on the Agency website: dec.vermont.gov/watershed/tasc/water-quality-standards

Issuance of a draft Decision 

The Department will issue a public notice when a draft decision has been issued for the Projects. At this time the public will be provided at least 30 days to comment on the Department’s draft decisions for each Project. In addition, to being able to provide, written, and oral comments the Department will host a public hearing to take additional testimony related to the water quality certification application and the Department’s draft certification. 

Please revisit this page for updated information on any draft decisions in addition to the time and location of any public hearings. Individuals can also register on the Departments Environmental Notice Bulletin to receive emails updates (details on how to register are provided below). 

The Department will consider all public comments provided within the comment period prior to issuance of a final decision. Further the Department will provide a response  to comments received and issue  a Responsiveness Summary at the time of issuing the final decision. 

Providing comments outside of those periods

Outside of these comment periods the public is welcome to submit comments to the Environmental Notice Bulletin. Additionally, the Department will review those comments provided to FERC on the three Projects, however, will not respond to those directly in the responsiveness summary (see above). 

Additional information on the Vermont 401 water quality certification 

Environmental Notice Bulletin (https://enb.vermont.gov/)

The Environmental Notice Bulletin (ENB) provides the public with information about applications that are under consideration by the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). It is updated daily, and includes permit, certification, and registration applications for most DEC programs. For each application, the Bulletin provides basic information about the project, the type of permit requested, important dates in the permit process, and contact information for the DEC staff person who can provide additional information. Members of the public may set up an ENB account and configure a subscription in order to receive email notification of applications which may interest them. 

For technical questions or issues please don’t hesitate to contact the ENB Administrator: ANR.ENBAdministrator@vermont.gov.

Without Registering

Specific information including screenshots can be viewed in the ENB user guide link provided below. 

  1. Any public user can search for activities from the ENB home page- you do not have to be logged in.
  2. The page will open with the search results in the lower part of the screen and show all activities on public notice.
  3. You can sort the results using the column headers. The results below are sorted by Project/Activity Name.
  4. You can also narrow the search results by using the filters:
  5. From the list presented you can click the link under Project/Activity Name to learn more information about the activity.
  6. Once the comment period is open, the Comment button will be visible. When the comment period has closed, the button will be deactivated. To submit a comment, click the Comment button and a separate window will open.
  7. ENB is designed to send a daily email notification to users who have signed up to receive activity alert
  8. To configure your alerts select My Subscription from the menu on the search page, click modify alerts, and enter the necessary information. 

Registering for updates

Specific information including screenshots can be viewed in the ENB user guide link provided below. 

  1. To create a new account click Register on the right-hand side of the menu on the search page.
  2. Enter you name, email address and password. Note the password requirement is at least six (6) characters, but there are no other security restrictions for the password. Users should choose something difficult for others to guess. 3. When you click Register a confirmation email is sent to the email address with a confirmation link.
  3. From there, users can log into the ENB.
  4. Please be sure to add ANR.ENBAdministrator@vermont.gov to your safe list for incoming mail. All emails sent from ENB will come from this address!

Additional information on the ENB

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (https://www.ferc.gov/)

FERC's Mission: Assist consumers in obtaining reliable, safe, secure, and economically efficient energy services at a reasonable cost through appropriate regulatory and market means, and collaborative efforts. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC, is an independent agency that regulates the interstate transmission of electricity, natural gas, and oil. FERC also reviews proposals to build liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals and interstate natural gas pipelines as well as licensing hydropower projects. Among other things, FERC is responsible for:

  • Licenses and inspects private, municipal, and state hydroelectric projects
  • Enforces FERC regulatory requirements through imposition of civil penalties and other means
  • Oversees environmental matters related to natural gas and hydroelectricity projects and other matters

FERC elibrary

FERC maintains an eLibrary where documents submitted related to the Great River Hydroelectric Project relicensing information can be found. This search can include all documents files with FERC from the start of the process in 2010 and remains active. 

Use this link for a General Search of all projects. Typing “Great River Hydro” into the keyword search feature will provide results for all Projects owned by GRH. To search for specific information related to the Wilder, Bellows Falls, or Vernon Projects, please enter the applicable Docket Number in the “Enter Docket Number” field. 

  • Wilder Hydroelectric (P-1892) 
  • Bellows Falls Hydroelectric (P-1855)
  • Vernon Hydroelectric (P-1904)

Additional resources

For any additional information please contact:

Jeff Crocker Supervising River Ecologist
Vermont Agency of Natural Resources
Department of Environmental Conservation
1 National Life Drive, Davis 3
Montpelier, VT 05620-3522
Email: Jeff.Crocker@vermont.gov
Telephone: 802-490-6151