THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT! And patience! Fishable Indiana Streams for Hoosiers, Inc. (FISH) recently presented Sen. Joe Donnelly of Indiana with our petition, signed by 1054 Hoosiers, Americans, and concerned friends worldwide, requesting his attention and assistance regarding Williams Dam, the process by which the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) awarded a 50-year license to generate hydropower at Williams Dam, and how the dam and the license affect threatened and endangered species in the East Fork of the White River. The petition was written in 2016, and we were set back somewhat by the election. However, earlier this month our friends at the Center for Biological Diversity petitioned the federal government to declare the lake sturgeon, particularly the remnant population in the East Fork, an Endangered Species. CBD also gave notice that it would sue the federal government to advance protection for a federally listed endangered mussel found in the East Fork. Therefore we felt that the time for action is now! IF the holder of the hydropower license moves ahead with their project, against the interests of Hoosiers and our environment, then we and our friends will demand the utmost in state-of-the-art technology and programs to protect the lake sturgeon, and all other threatened and endangered species in the East Fork White River and its watershed! (Pictured: Deputy State Director Brandon Herget accepting petition on behalf of Sen. Donnelly from FISH Director G. Moody)
The text of our letter to Senator Donnelly:
May 24, 2018
The Honorable Joe Donnelly
United States Senate
115 N. Pennsylvania Street Suite 100
Indianapolis, IN 46204
Dear Senator Donnelly:
Fishable Indiana Streams for Hoosiers, Inc. (FISH) is pleased to present you this day with our petition, signed by 1054 Hoosiers, Americans, and concerned friends worldwide, requesting your attention and assistance regarding Williams Dam, the process by which the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) awarded a 50-year license to generate hydropower at Williams Dam, and how the dam and the license affect threatened and endangered species in the East Fork of the White River (EFWR). FISH intends to submit requests for information to FERC and the Department of the Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and may need your assistance in facilitating those. We would also like to share that information with you, and thereby improve both the current situation regarding Williams Dam, and also similar processes involving those agencies in the future.
We are also requesting your assistance in improving and protecting the ecosystem, as required or encouraged by federal law, in the EFWR, particularly with respect to the adverse affects upon that ecosystem imposed by Williams Dam. In that regard, we support and would like to bring to your attention the petition to the federal government by the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) entitled Petition to List U.S. Populations of Lake Sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens) as Endangered or Threatened under the Endangered Species Act, dated May 14, 2018.
Similarly, we support and would like to bring to your attention CBD’s Sixty-day Notice of Intent to Sue for Violations of the Endangered Species Act Relating to Failure to Designate Critical Habitat for snuffbox (Epioblasma triquetra), rayed bean (Villosa fabalis), sheepnose (Plethobasus cyphyus), and spectaclecase (Cumberlandia monodonta) mussels, dated May 2, 2018, given to Secretary Zinke et al.
Williams Dam was constructed circa 1912 to generate hydropower, which ceased in 1958. Ownership was then tranferred to the State of Indiana. After numerous schemes to reactivate the dam were proposed and rejected over many years, the state, during the administration of Governor Kernan, finally concluded that the best course of action was to remove the dam “Due to its deteriorating condition, the high cost of reconstruction, and the negative environmental impacts posed by the dam…” (DNR letter to Senator Lugar, April 4, 2004, attached.)
During the administration of Mitch Daniels and Lawrence County’s own Becky Skillman, however, a new scheme was proposed under the guise of “green energy” for Crane Naval Weapons Station. Thus began a long federal-state process to obtain a hydropower license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, a process unknown to all but a handful of Hoosiers, even though the public owns the dam. (Public notice consisted of the bare minimum under federal law, mostly notices to tribes, historical agencies, etc., a couple of legal ads in the Bedford Times, the Federal Register of course, and a public meeting in the village of Williams.) By the time this rather secretive process was revealed by the applicant (Free Flow Power, aka Paynebridge LLC, now “Rye Development”) in December 2013, it was a “done deal.” Although key deadlines had passed, FISH petitioned to intervene in the process. FERC denied our intervention as “unfair to the applicant.” FISH nevertheless raised numerous environmental and legal objections. FERC, ultimately, was mostly silent on the matter for nearly five months. We assume that they were considering the law.
On Aug. 13, 2014, the head of the Lawrence County Economic Growth Council wrote a letter (attached) to then-Congressman Todd Young on behalf of Free Flow, complaining that “this project is having trouble in getting a license issued from the (FERC) Federal Energy Regulatory Commission… they are dragging their heals [sic] and as a result might cause a derailment in the total project.”
The next day, Congressman Young sent a letter (attached) to FERC’s Congressional liaison, expressing his “interest” and telling FERC to “review and extend every consideration” to his “constituent”, with the Lawrence County group’s letter attached. Twenty-five days later, FERC issued a 50-year license to Free Flow Power to reconstruct Williams Dam and generate power with it. In their rebuttal to the comments of FISH and others, FERC made various errors and questionable statements. Furthermore, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service had the legal right to require in the license that fish passage be installed, which they failed to do. When questioned about that by phone, a USFWS regional official exclaimed “WHAT endangered species?” Letters and petitions to USFWS Director Daniel Ashe went unanswered.
Williams dam blocks passage, recruitment, and recovery of various species, some threatened or endangered, including Bluebreast Darter, Spotted Darter, Tippecanoe Darter, Lake Sturgeon, Sauger, hosts of fanshell pearly mussel, sheepnose mussel, rough pigtoe mussel, etc. Asian carp passed Williams Dam during the 2008 floods (and perhaps other times since), although FERC denied that fact in a statement included in its licensing decision.
The remnant population of lake sturgeon in the EFWR below Williams Dam is of particular concern. The following is an excerpt from CBD’s petition:
Lake sturgeon were formerly common in the White River (INDNR 2006). A small stretch of the East Fork of the White River now contains the only remaining lake sturgeon population in the entire Ohio River drainage (INDNR 2006; Simon 2006; Drauch et al. 2008). ..
In 2005 lake sturgeon spawning (several fish) was documented in the East Fork White River for the first time and larval lake sturgeon were collected from the river just below the spawning area (INDNR 2006). The only known spawning area in East Fork White River is just downstream from Williams Dam, a hydropower structure built in 1913 that is a barrier to further upstream movement of lake sturgeon (INDNR 2013). Lake sturgeon have been documented spawning below Williams Dam every year since 2005; nearly 100 individual lake sturgeon have been identified (INDNR 2013).
A study through Purdue University was completed in 2006 to determine if the genetic structure of the East Fork White River lake sturgeon population is unique. Results showed these fish to be genetically distinct from other lake sturgeon populations, sufficiently different enough from Great Lake populations to warrant conservation as a distinct population, and that they do not appear to be contaminated by non-native stocks (Drauch et al. 2008). Drauch et al. (2008) concluded that any type of augmentation to the East Fork White River population or reintroductions in other parts of the Ohio River drainage should only be attempted using East Fork White River lake sturgeon.
Therefore, from its historical range throughout the Ohio River watershed, this lake sturgeon sub-species, if you will, has shrank to a very small population which is bottled up below Williams Dam, its range consisting (according to state and federal wildlife officials) only of Martin County and the west side of Lawrence County. Obviously, extreme conditions such as severe drought or a chemical spill could decimate or even eliminate that population altogether. Furthermore, the FERC licensing process and decision did not take adequately, if at all, consider the affects of climate change on the river and its ecosystem, a factor which by itself adds a major threat to the sturgeon and its imperiled neighbors.
The best solution to the problem of Williams Dam, still, is to remove it, which again, was the State’s determination the last time that our state’s environmental and wildlife professionals were given free reign to exercise their judgment based upon science. Nevertheless, if the dam is going to remain in place for any period, FISH and its colleagues will insist upon full protection for endangered and threatened species in the river. That should start with the construction of a state-of-the-art fish passage around Williams Dam, and all other measures necessary to protect those species, and indeed, to further their recovery in the entire EFWR range and watershed. Similar measures are normal and expected of many other hydropower licensees nationwide. The Williams Dam situation should be no different.
Finally, please note that the petition we are submitting was written in the Spring of 2016. Some of the language and terminology in the petition reflects that. Please be assured that any requests to you, and our all of our efforts and cooperation in this matter, will be made with mindfulness of your relationship with your fellow member of the Senate, and with cordiality and respect uppermost. We are still concerned about the appearance of political influence upon FERC’s process, but we wish to use any information revealed about that to, again, improve the situation regarding Williams Dam specifically, and also to improve similar licensing processes in future.
In summary, thank you very much for receiving our petition and its accompanying documents, and we look forward to working with you to working with you on this matter.
Gary W. Moody
Director, Fishable Indiana Streams for Hoosiers, Inc. (FISH)