Officials Follow Blumenthal and Delauro’s Call to Review Housatonic Flood Plan

(Hartford, CT) – Senator Richard Blumenthal and Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (CT-03) received notice from Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Chairman John Wellinghoff this week that the commission and FirstLight, the company that controls the Stevenson Dam, would immediately begin a review of the Lower Housatonic River flood plan in response to their letters of concern after the March flooding.

“I am pleased with the response I have received from Commissioner Wellinghoff and look forward to continuing to work with FERC and FirstLight to address issues that are fundamental to the safety of residents and protection of property in the Housatonic region,” said Senator Blumenthal. “It is vital that a flood plan be in place that gives enough notice for residents and emergency responders to act effectively to minimize damage and harm to residents and homes. Notice and flood warnings are absolutely necessary for residents and businesses to protect themselves and for local officials to provide proactive emergency services.”

“It is critical that residents have the information and resources they need to react when homes and livelihoods are threatened by floods. As I saw firsthand in Derby last month, the consequences of inaction are too great to be ignored, and I am pleased that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission recognizes this danger,” said Congresswoman DeLauro. “This response is the first step towards ensuring our local residents are better protected against dangerous floods, and I look forward to working with both the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and FirstLight as we move forward.”

The letter states, “The Commission's staff has notified FirstLight that it should improve its flood plan coordination with the emergency management agencies (EMAs) and that it take specific steps to meet these objectives. Furthermore, we require that FirstLight meet individually with the downstream EMAs to determine the lessons learned and hear their thoughts on changing the flood plan. Afterwards, FirstLight must meet with all local EMAs to come to a consensus on any changes to the emergency action plan and flood plan.”

While visiting the Stevenson Dam and the surrounding towns after the March flooding, Blumenthal and DeLauro heard residents’ frustration at the lack of early notification they and emergency responders were given as the Housatonic rose rapidly after heavy rains and snow melt. This notification is fundamental to providing residents with enough time to evacuate and protect their belongings, and for town officials and emergency responders to adequately prepare. Following their visits, both Blumenthal and DeLauro wrote to both FERC and FirstLight to request an immediate review of the flood plan and answers to questions concerning notification.

Both offices will meet with FirstLight next week to discuss adjustments to their flood mitigation practices.

The text of the letters from FERC is below. Blumenthal and DeLauro’s original letters to FERC and FirstLight are attached.

April 19, 2011

The Honorable Richard Blumenthal
United States Senator
30 Lewis Street Suite 101
Hartford, CT 06103

Dear Senator Blumenthal:

Thank you for your March 16, 2011 letter regarding FirstLight Hydro Generating Co.'s (FirstLight) Housatonic River Hydroelectric Project (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Project No. 2576). In your letter you requested a review of the Lower Housatonic Flood Plan and specifically the actions taken by FirstLight during the flooding of the Housatonic River that occurred on March 6 and 7, 2011. You also asked for recommendations to change the flood plan to ensure that, in the future, all appropriate steps will be taken by the operator to minimize the impact of flooding in the surrounding areas.

The Commission's review of the recent flooding of the Housatonic River began on March 9, 2011 when the Commission's staff requested that FirstLight submit a summary of the March 6-7, 2011 flooding incident. FirstLight submitted responses on March 17, 2011 and March 23, 2011. In addition, on March 30, 2011, FirstLight submitted documentation of telephone notifications it made between March 7 and March 15, 2011 to the communities downstream of Stevenson Dam. Commission staff has reviewed all of the information that First Light submitted regarding the Lower Housatonic Flood Plan and FirstLight's notification procedures. On March 31, 2011, the Commission's staff sent a letter to FirstLight (copy enclosed) that contained its conclusions.

The Housatonic River Hydroelectric Project includes five developments. The five developments do not provide flood control capability for the downstream communities; nonetheless, FirstLight is required to alert downstream communities of potential flood levels. Commission staff determined that the company notified the downstream authorities in accordance with the procedures set for the "Lower Housatonic Flood Plan (Stevenson Dam)." This included notifications to the downstream towns when the flow levels in the river reached 7,000, 10,000, 14,000, and 20,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) during the March 6-7 flooding. In addition, FirstLight made notification calls to the downstream communities every two hours from March 7 through March 14, 2011.

In your letter, you asked for recommendations to change the flood plan to ensure that in the future all appropriate steps will be taken by the operator to minimize the impact of flooding in the surrounding areas. The Commission's staff has notified FirstLight that it should improve its flood plan coordination with the emergency management agencies (EMAs) and that it take specific steps to meet these objectives. Specifically, FirstLight should add additional notifications to downstream response agencies when flows rise above 20,000 cfs and confirm that all parties understand their roles and responsibilities during floods. Furthermore, we require that FirstLight meet individually with the downstream EMAs to determine the lessons learned and hear their thoughts on changing the flood plan. Afterwards, FirstLight must meet with all local EMAs to come to a consensus on any changes to the emergency action plan and flood plan. After the plans are updated, FirstLight will schedule a tabletop exercise so that all parties will be part of a walk through and become familiar with how notifications and warnings would occur during future dam-related emergencies and floods.

Finally, Commission staff is currently working with the EMAs and FirstLight on updating its flood plan and will attend the tabletop exercise. Mr. Richard Laudenat at FirstLight should be able to provide your staff with more information on the dates and times of the future meetings. On April 15, 2011, Mr. Laudenat sent the Commission a letter outlining a general schedule for future meetings (copy enclosed). In the meantime, we would be happy to discuss any remaining issues with local officials. If I can be of further assistance in this or any other Commission matter, please let me know.

Sincerely,

Jon Wellinghoff
Chairman

The Honorable Rosa L. DeLauro
U.S. House of Representatives
59 Elm Street, Second Floor
New Haven, CT 06510

Dear Congresswoman DeLauro:

Thank you for your March 15, 2011 letter regarding FirstLight Hydro Generating Co.' s (FirstLight) Housatonic River Hydroelectric Project (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Project No. 2576). In your letter, you request an investigation on behalf of your constituents from the Town of Derby about the lack of additional warnings following the initial warning from FirstLight during high flows from Stevenson Dam on March 12, 2011. You also formally invited a representative of the Commission to meet with city officials to further discuss this issue. In a follow-up telephone conversation, your office clarified that you also would like information on the actions taken by FirstLight in response to rising water levels at the same dam earlier that week due to a flooding event on March 6-7, 2011.

The Commission's review of the recent flooding of the Housatonic River began on March 9, 2011 when the Commission's staff requested that FirstLight submit a summary of the March 6-7, 2011 flooding incident. FirstLight submitted responses on March 17, 2011 and March 23, 2011. In addition, on March 30, 2011, FirstLight submitted documentation of telephone notifications it made between March 7 and March 15, 2011 to the communities downstream of Stevenson Dam. Commission staff has reviewed all of the information that First Light submitted regarding the Lower Housatonic Flood Plan and FirstLight's notification procedures. On March 31, 2011, the Commission's staff sent a letter to FirstLight (copy enclosed) that contained its conclusions.

The Housatonic River Hydroelectric Project includes five developments. The five developments do not provide flood control capability for the downstream communities; nonetheless, FirstLight is required to alert downstream communities of potential flood levels. Commission staff determined that the company notified the downstream authorities in accordance with the procedures set for the "Lower Housatonic Flood Plan (Stevenson Dam)." This included notifications to the downstream towns when the flow levels in the river reached 7,000, 10,000, 14,000, and 20,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) during the March 6-7 flooding. In addition, FirstLight made notification calls to the downstream communities every two hours from March 7 through March 14, 2011.

In your letter, you asked for recommendations to change the flood plan to ensure that in the future all appropriate steps will be taken by the operator to minimize the impact of flooding in the surrounding areas. The Commission's staff has notified FirstLight that it should improve its flood plan coordination with the emergency management agencies (EMAs) and that it take specific steps to meet these objectives. Specifically, FirstLight should add additional notifications to downstream response agencies when flows rise above 20,000 cfs and confirm that all parties understand their roles and responsibilities during floods. Furthermore, we require that FirstLight meet individually with the downstream EMAs to determine the lessons learned and hear their thoughts on changing the flood plan. Afterwards, FirstLight must meet with all local EMAs to come to a consensus on any changes to the emergency action plan and flood plan. After the plans are updated, FirstLight will schedule a tabletop exercise so that all parties will be part of a walk through and become familiar with how notifications and warnings would occur during future dam-related emergencies and floods.

I appreciate your invitation to further discuss these issues with city officials. Commission staff is currently working with the EMAs and FirstLight on updating its flood plan and will attend the tabletop exercise. Mr. Richard Laudenat at FirstLight should be able to provide your staff with more information on the dates and times ofthe future meetings. On April 15, 2011, Mr. Laudenat sent the Commission a letter outlining a general schedule for future meetings (copy enclosed). In the meantime, we would be happy to discuss any remaining issues with Derby officials. If I can be of further assistance in this or any other Commission matter, please let me know.

Sincerely, 

Jon Wellinghoff
Chairman

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