Anbaric: ‘Too soon’ to say whether fish conservation plan will affect Lake Champlain-related transmission projects

It’s a little too soon to say whether the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s (DEC) recently adopted Sauger Conservation Management Plan will affect any of the proposed transmission projects in Lake Champlain in New York, according to Bryan Sanderson, senior vice president of Anbaric Transmission.

“Of the projects proposed within the lake, the Grand Isle Intertie is the shortest,” he said of the proposed 230-kV, 34-mile line, which will be capable of flowing 400 MW of electricity between a substation in Plattsburgh, N.Y., and Vermont Electric Power Company’s new Champlain substation to be located near Essex, Vt.

The DEC on Jan. 2 said that it adopted a conservation management plan for one of the state’s most imperiled fish species, the sauger, which is uniquely adapted to thrive in large turbid rivers and lakes and was once common in New York portions of Lake Erie, Lake Ontario, the St. Lawrence River and Lake Champlain.

Only the Lake Champlain sauger population remains and even in that area, the recent records of their occurrence are scarce. The DEC further noted that the sauger is also native to the Allegheny River, but pollution in the late 19th and much of the 20th centuries led to its extirpation. While the population in the lower river is recovering, access to much of the New York portion of the watershed is blocked by a dam.

According to the plan, sauger are currently listed as a species of greatest conservation need in New York State with a rank of S1, indicating that it is considered critically imperiled (NYSDEC 2006). Sauger have therefore been identified by the NYSDEC Bureau of Fisheries as a priority species for conservation management, DEC said.

“Consistent with our commitment to act as advocates for the environment, we will work closely with the [New York] DEC and the [New York state Department of Public Service (DPS)], community groups, and environmental organizations to identify any Sauger habitat in our project’s path and avoid any adverse impacts on the fish – and to act as responsible stewards of the environment in the lake and onshore,” Sanderson said.

According to TransmissionHub data, construction on the Grand Isle Intertie project is scheduled to begin in 2015, and the final in-service date is expected by May 2016.

Another company with transmission efforts in Lake Champlain is Transmission Developers Inc. through the proposed Champlain Hudson Power Express and the New England Clean Power Link projects.

“We do not believe that either transmission project poses any threat to the species based on the care being taken to design them,” company spokesperson Andrew Rush told TransmissionHub. “The design of each project is done to specifically avoid or minimize any impacts to sensitive species. In addition, the Environmental Trust Fund proposed for the Champlain Hudson Power Express project specifically prioritizes funding of projects that are called for … in the Sauger Conservation Management Plan.”

Last October, TDI New England announced the $1.2bn underground HVDC New England Clean Power Link project that would run from Canada to Vermont, delivering 1,000 MW of hydropower to the ISO New England market. Like the Champlain Hudson Power Express project, the New England Clean Power Link would run underground and underwater.

On Jan. 8, Champlain VT, LLC d/b/a TDI New England requested authority from FERC to sell the rights on the approximately 150-mile HVDC 1,000 MW New England Clean Power Link project, which will begin at a converter station in Quebec, Canada, and consists of two submarine or underground cable systems that will end at a new converter station near or in Ludlow, Vt.

Last October, the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Electricity and Energy Reliability endorsed a Presidential permit for the $2.2bn, 320-kV HVDC Champlain Hudson Power Express line.

The line would cross into the United States from Canada near Champlain, N.Y., and its total length of 336 miles would be placed underground and underwater, traversing 16 New York counties, including Queens, where the line would reach its terminus.

DEC’s plan

The DEC said it adopted the plan under New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s NY Open for Hunting and Fishing Initiative, which is an effort to improve recreational activities for in-state and out-of-state sportsmen and sportswomen and to boost tourism opportunities throughout New York.

The initiative includes the streamlining of hunting and fishing licensing and reducing license fees, improved access for fishing at various sites across the state, stocking as much as 900,000 pounds of fish, expanding fishing clinics and increasing hunting opportunities in various regions.

The goal of the plan is to establish and maintain sauger populations in all suitable waters of native watersheds by 2030. The DEC also said that the plan’s three objectives, which are designed to be implemented through 2020, include:

  • Establishing a self-sustaining sauger population in the upper Allegheny River watershed.
  • Determining sauger population status and documenting and improving habitat suitability in Lake Champlain.
  • Determining the suitability of Lake Erie’s eastern basin watershed for sauger restoration.

Progress made towards meeting those objectives will serve as guidance in the development of new objectives and management recommendations for the period 2021-2030, the DEC added.

According to the plan, the number of suitable waters still needs to be determined as some waters where sauger once occurred in New York, such as the upper St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario, may no longer be able to support sauger populations.

Increased water clarity, because of reductions in nutrient loading and the invasion of zebra mussels, and restricted access to potentially important habitats due to dam construction, are key factors in the degradation of sauger habitat quality in those areas.

Therefore, the DEC added, management efforts will initially focus on the Allegheny River, Lake Champlain and Lake Erie watersheds. Suitable habitat likely exists in those waters and adjacent viable populations or recovery efforts suggest establishment of populations is achievable, the DEC said.

Among other things, the DEC said actions will include developing and implementing a stocking program for the Allegheny River watershed above the Kinzua Dam; to determining the need and feasibility of a stocking program for Lake Champlain; monitoring Conewango Creek for potential immigration of sauger from the Allegheny River in Pennsylvania; developing and implementing a population monitoring plan to determine the status of sauger in Lake Champlain; and continuing annual warmwater fish stock assessments in Lake Erie.

The DEC further noted that conservation tasks will be conducted and/or coordinated primarily by the DEC with assistance from partners on specific tasks. However, the DEC said, successfully addressing plan objectives will require additional staff and funding beyond that which is currently available.

The sauger’s status as a sportfish and a species of greatest conservation need makes it somewhat uniquely eligible for funding under the Federal Aid in Sportfish Restoration and State Wildlife Grant program. Also, funding for sauger conservation projects in Lake Champlain may come from the impending mitigation settlement for in-lake installation of the Champlain Hudson Power Express line – the Champlain Hudson Environmental Research and Development Trust, the DEC said.

About Corina Rivera-Linares 3286 Articles
Corina Rivera-Linares was TransmissionHub’s chief editor until August 2021, as well as part of the team that established TransmissionHub in 2011. Before joining TransmissionHub, Corina covered renewable energy and environmental issues, as well as transmission, generation, regulation, legislation and ISO/RTO matters at SNL Financial from 2005 to 2011. She has also covered such topics as health, politics, and education for weekly newspapers and national magazines.