On November 18, 2014, the Maryland Department of the Environment issued a public notice of the Proposed Relicensing of the Conowingo Hydroelectric Project Application for Water Quality Certification. The purpose of the notice was to solicit comments from the public and to announce the scheduling of a public hearing.
However, the following is a follow up Press Release that went out from MDE on December 8, 2014:
Water Quality Certification application for proposed Conowingo Dam relicensing withdrawn, January 7 Water Quality Certification public hearing canceled, Exelon agrees to fund additional study
Exelon agrees to provide up to $3.5 million for additional study of effects of Conowingo Dam on Chesapeake Bay water quality; previously scheduled public hearing on company's application canceled, company says it must refile application within 90 days
BALTIMORE, MD (December 8, 2014) -
Recognizing the Maryland Department of the Environment's position that more information on the effects of the Conowingo Dam is needed before it can be determined whether the facility complies with State water quality standards, Exelon Corporation has withdrawn its application for the Water Quality Certification that is required as part of the relicensing process for the dam and has agreed to fund additional study of the issue.
MDE had stated its intention to deny the Proposed Relicensing of the Conowingo Hydroelectric Project Application for Water Quality Certification application due to insufficient information provided by the applicant. The company said it will work with MDE to coordinate the refiling of its application within 90 days. It has also agreed to provide up to $3.5 million to study the effects of sediment related to the Dam on water quality in the Susquehanna River and the Chesapeake Bay.
MDE had scheduled a public hearing on Exelon's application for Water Quality Certification for Jan. 7, 2015, at the Department's Baltimore headquarters. Due to the withdrawal of the application by Exelon, the hearing on the application is canceled. This action does not affect the scheduled public meeting on the Lower Susquehanna River Watershed Assessment draft report. The public meeting on that draft report will still be held at 7 p.m. tomorrow, Dec. 9, at Harford Community College.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has issued a one-year extension of the current license for the operation of the Conowingo Dam. Under federal law and as part of FERC's relicensing process, Exelon is required to obtain a Clean Water Act, Section 401 Water Quality Certification from MDE for the continued operation of the facility. Issuance of a Water Quality Certification is contingent upon the applicant demonstrating to MDE that the project will comply with State water quality standards. In issuing notice of the application, solicitation of public comments and scheduling of a public hearing, MDE stated the Department's intent to deny the application due to insufficient information provided by the applicant regarding the impacts of the activity on State water quality standards
The insufficiency of information is reflected in the draft Lower Susquehanna River Watershed Assessment report. The draft report found that the loss of long-term sediment trapping capacity at the Conowingo Dam is causing impacts to the health of the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem. It also found that additional nutrient pollution associated with these changed conditions in the lower Susquehanna River system could result in Maryland not being able to meet Chesapeake Bay water quality standards, even with full implementation of Watershed Implementation Plans by 2025, in some of the Bay's deeper northern waters. The draft report recommends additional study to quantify the full impact on Bay water quality caused by conditions at the Conowingo Dam.
Exelon has agreed to provide up to $3.5 million for additional study. A study plan has been prepared with input by MDE, Exelon, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, the U.S. Geological Survey, the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Chesapeake Bay Program and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Enhanced monitoring is planned over the next two years.
Exelon cited its understanding of FERC policy requiring that an applicant resubmit its request for Water Quality Certification within 90 days of date of withdrawal in stating its intention to refile an application within that time period. It is possible that a refiled application or applications might also be withdrawn, followed by the resubmission of applications.
If it is ultimately determined that the project cannot comply with State water quality standards, the applicant could be required to mitigate the impacts to water quality through, for example, actions taken at the facility or by offsetting the facility's impacts with pollution reduction activities at other locations in the watershed.