July 2007 Asheville Field Office press releases, story ideas, and media advisories
July 24, 2007
Following the recommendation of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission cleared the way for the removal of the Dillsboro Dam on the Tuckasegee River in Jackson County.
As a private hydropower facility, the Dillsboro dam hydroelectric facility requires a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) license for operation, and in a July 19th decision, FERC accepted Duke Energy’s surrender of the license for the Dillsboro dam hydroelectric facility, a move that includes the removal of both the dam and the powerhouse.
“We’re pleased FERC took this step and we can begin gearing up for the dam’s removal. The restoration of a free-flowing Tuckasegee River through Dillsboro will be a biological boon,” said Mark Cantrell, a biologist with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
Federal law requires operators of private hydropower facilities to address impacts to fish and wildlife resources, including the limitation of up- and downstream fish movement caused by the dam. The removal of the Dillsboro Dam is seen as a large step toward addressing those impacts on the Tuckasegee River.
Removing the dam will restore nearly a mile of the Tuckasegee River and create a stretch of unimpounded river more than 29 miles long. The result will be improved paddling opportunities, an improved fishery, and an improvement in the plight of the Appalachian elktoe, an endangered mussel. Currently the mussel is found both below the dam and above the reservoir, and the dam’s removal will open up new habitat behind the dam and reconnect the bisected population, allowing them to interbreed, thus improving their genetic diversity, and with it, their ability to survive.
“A cornerstone of the natural heritage of the Southern Appalachian region is free-flowing rivers that are home to a diversity of life, and when the dam is taken out, the still pool that now sits behind the dam will once again become a flowing river. Over time, we’ll see native wildlife, not only fish, but mussels and aquatic insects too, begin to populate the newly restored section of river,” said Cantrell.
The FERC order states “…(removal of the Dillsboro hydroelectric project) will result in greater upstream and downstream fish movement, wider distribution of Appalachian elktoe mussels, as well as improvement of recreational opportunities in the Tuckasegee River. For these reasons, surrender of the Dillsboro Project…will benefit environmental resources in the Tuckasegee River, and is in the public interest.” (the full FERC order can be read online at http://www.ferc.gov/whats-new/comm-meet/2007/071907/H-1.pdf)
Cantrell also pointed out that while the removal of the dam is good from a biological perspective, it also has economic opportunity.
“From an economic perspective, it also means that boaters and anglers will have more opportunity to enjoy a free-flowing river, and Dillsboro is perfectly located to take advantage of that by being the river’s gateway community.”
The removal of the dam was one of a suite of measures Duke agreed to in a 2003 settlement agreement signed by 16 stakeholders that included the Service, North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, North Carolina Council of Trout Unlimited, and the towns of Sylva and Dillsboro. While the stakeholder process allowed input from a number of groups, federal law requires that input be solicited from the Service, and that the Service has the authority to prescribe fish passage for a licensed project.
One of the next steps in the process of removing the dam is moving the Appalachian elktoe mussels found below the dam to a site upstream, moving them away from possible harm while the dam structure is removed. The movement of the mussels is scheduled to begin later this year. After the dam is removed and the river becomes stable, the mussels will be replaced.
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