Plant May Cost Trail

UMRA: Proposal will cut pathway, negate land deed

Morgantown Dominion Post
23 January 2014
By Ben Conley

An officer with the Upper Monongahela River Association (UMRA) is concerned that a proposed hydroelectric plant could affect rail-trail use.

As part of a preliminary application process with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), stakeholders had until Tuesday to submit comments on Free Flow Power’s proposal to place hydroelectric power plants at lock-and-dam sites along the Monongahela River.

As the Morgantown, Opekiska and Point Marion lock-and-dam sites are among the locations selected by Free Flow Power, numerous local entities have taken the opportunity to provide comments to the FERC.

Among them, some concerns spelled out by Wallace Venable, UMRA’s chief technical officer, seem to cut to the crux of the issues that have not only been spelled out in stakeholder comments, but also vocalized by members of the public during a special Morgantown City Council meeting held on the topic.

“We have very strong reservations about the FFP [Free Flow Power] assumptions about the Morgantown site. We also have concerns about the lack of properly detailed planning at other sites, particularly with regard to recreation,” Venable states in the nonprofit’s comments to the FERC.

The issue that seems most likely to affect the Morgantown project is the fact that the proposed site of the power plant is now a section of rail-trail.

Venable said that the West Virginia Rail Authority owns the surface of the property, while railroad company CSX owns the subsurface and air rights.

In UMRA’s comments, Venable writes of FFP’s application, “FFP makes the following incorrect and highly misleading statement: ‘The project will be primarily contained within lands managed and maintained by USACE (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers).’ In fact, the project is to occupy about 4.5 acres which have never been owned, maintained or managed by the USACE and essentially not USACE land.”

During last week’s special city council meeting, Morgantown City Manager Jeff Mikorski said that the rail-trail corridor must remain intact.

“The city of Morgantown has a quitclaim deed with the state rail authority, which has a contract and a deed from CSX. That deed has reversionary clauses. If we fail to maintain an intact corridor ... that reversionary clause could result in CSX removing our surface rights to the rail-trail property,” Mikorski said. “We see that as a major concern.”

Free Flow Power puts the value of the property near the Morgantown Lock and Dam at $125,000. But Venable points out that because the value of the total corridor could be destroyed, the value “may well exceed $125,000,000.”

UMRA’s comments also point out that Free Flow Power promised a Recreational Resources Management Plan that was to “inventory existing facilities and seasonal use patterns,” and lay out how construction and future operations could impact those facilities.

No such plan ever materialized, according to UMRA, which points out that the data submitted by Free Flow Power “contains no plans at all, other than a definition of the projected recreational impact zones for the projects.”

Among the requests UMRA presents in its comments are:

Three other Mon River locations, Charleroi, Maxwell and Grays Landing lock-and-dam sites, have been targeted for potential hydroelectric projects by Free Flow Power.