Licensee seeks West Branch and Sysladobsis Dam amendment

Friday, May 26, 2017

A Maine dam owner has applied to federal regulators seeking to exclude from its hydropower license one of two dam-based developments which comprise the project.

At issue is the January 31, 2017 application of Woodland Pulp LLC to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for an amendment to the license for the West Branch Storage Dam Project.  The West Branch project was first licensed in 1980, and currently operates under a license issued by the Commission in 2016.  It includes two developments -- Sysladobsis and West Grand -- each of which operates as a water storage facility to provide flood storage and flow releases for downstream hydroelectric generation. 

As described in the license amendment application, the Sysladobsis development includes Sysladobsis Dam.  This dam is about 250 feet long and 9 feet high, consisting of three earth embankment sections, a small timber gate structure, and a fish passage facility.  The dam impounds the 5,400-acre Sysladobsis Lake; water released from the dam flows Sysladobsis Lake into the downstream West Grand impoundment, then into either Grand Lake Stream or Grand Lake Brook.  The project does not include any electricity generating facilities, but rather operates as part of a 112-year-old system of headwater storage dams in the St. Croix River watershed including Woodland Pulp LLC’s Forest City Project No. 2660 which the licensee has applied and the recently relicensed Vanceboro Project No. 2492. Generation associated with these projects occurs at the Grand Falls and Woodland hydroelectric projects downstream on the St. Croix River.

The licensee has requested FERC approval to remove the Sysladobsis development from the West Branch Project as a legal matter, and proposes "to remove the two wooden gates at the Sysladobsis Dam," but says it "does not propose to remove the Sysladobsis Dam as part of the amendment, and such removal is not necessary or appropriate."  Rather, the applicant asserts, "There will be no structural alteration of the dam, and there will be no discharge into the water. Once the gates are removed, the dam will no longer act as a water control structure for Sysladobsis Lake. Instead, impoundment levels and outflow will be determined by the natural precipitation cycle."

According to the licensee's application, "This change is necessary since operation of the Project as-is will no longer be economic under the new license issued March 15, 2016."  The licensee cited license terms and conditions including specific water level requirements and operating plans, reporting, and consultation requirements, "some with unreasonable time constraints."  The application notes, "As such Woodland cannot continue to fund and support the Sysladobsis development and incur increased losses on non-economically viable facility components."

In a separate docket, the Commission is considering an application by the same licensee to surrender its Forest City project license.

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