Power plants concerned about mollusk protection

Power plants concerned about mollusk protection

February 12th, 2010 by Pam Sohn in News

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service hopes to add three species of mollusks found in this region to the endangered species list.

That could mean designating large portions of the Conasauga and Oostanaula rivers as critical habitat.

But power generation groups, including the U.S. Department of Energy's Southeastern Power Administration, worry that such a designation will affect their permits to withdraw water from the rivers where the mussels live.

The proposal would affect about 160 miles of rivers and streams, including waterways in Polk and Bradley counties in Tennessee and Murray, Whitfield, Gordon and Floyd counties in Georgia.

Photo credits: Photographer: Thomas Tarpley Provided by: Paul Johnson with the Alabama Aquatic Biodiversity Center, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is pushing to protect mussels, such as this Georgia pigtoe, in the area.

Photo credits: Photographer: Thomas Tarpley Provided by: Paul Johnson with...

The plan is to protect the Georgia pigtoe mussel, interrupted rocksnail and rough hornsnail -- all critical indicators of water health, according to Fish and Wildlife officials.

"Critical habitat is being proposed for these three species because they have disappeared from more than 90 percent of their historic ranges due to the construction of dams on the Coosa River, and past events of severe water pollution," Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman Elsie Davis said.

"Surviving populations of these three species are small and localized, and highly vulnerable to water quality and habitat deterioration," she said.

But the plan is spurring opposition far downstream at Allatoona and Carters lakes.

"Southeastern Power Administration is very concerned about this issue and any potential change in river operations which might affect power generation and limit our ability to meet customer contractual requirements," wrote Herbert R. Nadler, assistant administrator for power operations, in a public comments response letter to the Fish and Wildlife Service.

His organization markets the capacity and energy generated from U.S. Army Corps of Engineers hydroelectric dams.

The Southeastern Federal Power Customers Inc., a rural power utilities trade group headquartered in Arlington, Va., is calling for an environmental impact statement on the proposal.

"Because the findings for the establishment for a critical habitat will form the baseline for any consultation with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers over the operation of the Allatoona and Carters (lakes) multipurpose projects, the assumptions underlying the designation of the critical habitat must be revised and updated," C.H Bonham III, the group's water storage reallocation committee chairman, wrote in a comment letter.

HOW TO COMMENT

What: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designation of critical habitat for an endangered mussel and two endangered snails

When: The deadline for public comments is March 12.

Where: Submit comments online at the Federal eRulemaking Portal, www.regulations.gov

Address handwritten comments to:

Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS-R4-ES-2008-0104

Division of Policy and Directives Management

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

4401 N. Fairfax Drive, Suite 222

Arlington, VA 22203

"If critical habitat units are established using incomplete or faulty data, the corps could face operational restrictions that have no relation to the conservation of the species," Mr. Bonham's letter states.

A letter from the Mobile District of the Corps of Engineers states that the corps "does not object to the listing of the three species and their critical habitat. However, we wish to reserve the right to provide further comment when the (Fish and Wildlife) Service provides its economic analysis of the proposed listings."

In a prepared statement, Ms. Davis said the Endangered Species Act requires that the designation of critical habitat for a species must consider the economic and other relevant impacts.

She said the benefits of inclusion or exclusion of particular areas are considered and areas may be excluded from critical habitat designations, provided that such exclusion will not result in the extinction of the species."