Hogan announces environmental agreement with dam operator
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Exelon Corp., the energy company that runs the Conowingo Dam, will invest more than $200 million in environmental projects, according to an agreement announced Tuesday by Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan.
Maryland officials have been focusing on how to address the environmental impact of trash and debris that has been swept downstream from Pennsylvania to Maryland through the dam after heavy rains. State officials also are concerned that sediment buildup behind the dam’s walls could be released and wreak havoc on the fragile Chesapeake Bay ecosystem.
The money in the proposed settlement will be used to improve water quality in the Lower Susquehanna River and the Chesapeake Bay, the nation’s largest estuary, Hogan said.
“This settlement is a significant and positive step in the right direction, and with the cooperation of Exelon and upstream states, we can continue making progress in our efforts to preserve and protect this great national treasure,” Hogan said in a statement.
Parts of the agreement will be submitted for approval to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, as part of the licensing renewal for the dam.
The proposal includes $52 million to implement new requirements for flow control to create more natural conditions in the Lower Susquehanna. It also includes $41 million to increase efforts to remove trash and debris that flows down the Susquehanna from upstream states.
Other parts of the agreement include: $47 million for climate resiliency projects like submerged aquatic vegetation, clams, oysters and the restoration of living shorelines and $25 million for an initiative to restore mussels in the Susquehanna.
“Exelon Generation and the State of Maryland share a commitment to restoring and sustaining the health of the Chesapeake Bay, which has been strengthened by this agreement,” said Chris Crane, president and CEO of Exelon.
But a group that advocates for the bay said it’s concerned the settlement falls short of mitigating the negative water quality impact associated with operating the dam, as Exelon seeks a 50-year licensing agreement to operate it.
While the Chesapeake Bay Foundation says the projects outlined for funding in the agreement are laudable, the group says a majority of any money should be spent on upstream practices to reduce the sediments and pollution that reaches the dam.
“We still need more details on the settlement agreement,” said Alison Prost, CBF’s Maryland executive director. “However, we believe Exelon’s identified projects and the roughly $4 million per year commitment over the dam’s nearly 50-year licensing agreement are insufficient investments to offset the negative water quality impacts caused by the dam’s operations.”
The agreement settles Exelon’s legal challenges to the water quality certification issued last year under the Clean Water Act and ends the prospect of years of litigation, Hogan said.
Exelon has contended it’s not fair to force the company to pay for pollution the dam doesn’t produce.
The proposed settlement includes $500,000 for a study of management options for dredged material.
Scientific reports confirm that the dam has reached full capacity and can no longer stop pollution from entering the bay, threatening the state’s ability to meet cleanup goals for the nation’s largest estuary.
The Hogan administration says it’s working to address the problem with conditions relating to the relicensing of the dam, a pilot project on beneficial reuse of dredged material and a multistate plan to address upstream discharges and the lost sediment-trapping capacity of the dam.