Morgantown officials to ask for rehearing on hydroelectric project

The Dominion Post

Oct. 23–Morgantown officials plan to ask the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for a rehearing on the hydroelectric project the agency authorized for the Morgantown lock and dam.

The issue was added to council’s most recent agenda as an emergency action item due to time constraints. City Manager Paul Brake said the city would lose legal standing if the request wasn’t filed by the end of the month.

FERC issued licenses for hydroelectric power projects at the Morgantown and Opekiska locks and dams Sept. 29. The projects were two of six proposed for the Monongahela River, in 2014, by Boston-based FFP Missouri, now called Rye Development. Another is at Point Marion, Pa., while the other three are farther north, toward Pittsburgh.

Brake explained that the license issued by FERC failed to address many of the key concerns expressed by stakeholders, including impacts to the rail-trail and riverfront park areas, the loss of one of the state’s most productive fisheries and the disturbance of residents during and after construction.

“This is not anything against alternative forms of energy by any means. It’s a matter of all the issues that were brought up when the public comment period was open that were not taken into consideration in the order that came from this federal agency,â€� Brake said.

He went on to explain that BOPARC, the Mon River Trails Conservancy and the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and Division of Natural Resources all have legal standing on the issue and support a rehearing, as does the Upper Monongahela River Association.

Brake noted that FERC could deny the city’s request or grant the request but uphold its original filing — leaving Monongalia County Circuit Court as the next option.

“So we could be at this several times,â€Â? Brake said. “This is the very first step that’s needed to say we’re putting them on notice that we object to that and we want consideration to minimize these impacts …â€Â?

DEP Representative Jake Glance said the agency is still in talks with the DNR about filing a request for a rehearing.

In other city news, council voted 6-1 to adopt an escalating scale of fines for city residents who leave empty trash cans along the street, allow weeds to grow uncontrolled or otherwise fail to maintain their property.

Councilor Rachel Fetty voted in the minority.

The changes impact the city’s general offenses, health and sanitation and building codes.

For example, a first time trash can offender could be fined between$25 and $500 for each day the cans are not properly maintained. A second offense bumps the penalty to a range of $200 to $500 and a third offense and thereafter will be a $500 fine.

The penalty structures are very similar for the other issues addressed by the amendments.

Fetty said she understands there are issues with habitual offenders, but she fears the newly adopted penalties are too steep.

“I think that the fines are excessive,â€� Fetty said, explaining that “a second or third offense in one’s lifetime leaving a trash can on the curb or having noxious weeds does not seem habitual, and the fines are so high, I worry about overzealous enforcement.â€�

Council also:

Unanimously adopted a new schedule of penalties for abandoned properties.

If passed, property owners will have to pay an annual, non-refundable fee to register each vacant structure based on how long the structure has been vacant — no fee for properties vacant less than a year, $500 for one year, $1,000 for two years, up to $4,000 for properties vacant at least five years. An additional $1,000 is added for each year beyond five.

Brake and members of council said there has been quite a bit of feedback since the law was introduced this month.

“The thing to remember with any of these ordinances, they’re living documents,â€� Brake said. “So if there are defects or items that do not carry out as we intend, we come back and amend them further.â€�

Unanimously authorized Brake to pursue a grant for a survey of the Sabraton area. The survey would seek to identify historic structures.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Waterways Council, Inc.