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Town Meeting Votes To Address Hydro System Erosion Along Connecticut River

Toby Talbot
Towns that are upriver from the Bellows Falls Dam say the hydro system is leading to erosion. Four towns will hold town meeting votes to get the owner of the hydro system to start a mitigation fund.

Voters in four towns will weigh in on a special Town Meeting article that addresses riverbank erosion that might be caused by the Connecticut River hydro system.The towns of Hartland, Windsor, Rockingham and Weathersfield will decide if they should ask the owners of the Connecticut River dams to compensate property owners who are losing land due to erosion.

TransCanada owns the Connecticut River dams, and the company's in the middle of seeking new, 30-year federal licenses for the facilities.

Nancy Heatley of Weathersfield says the Town Meeting Day question gives the communities a way to speak in one voice, and let TransCanada know that they want the erosion issue dealt with while the company is under federal review.

"With Town Meeting coming up we saw it as an opportunity to kind of put our hand up and say, 'By the way, you know, the towns have a vested interest in the process,'" Heatley says.

Heatley helped organize the votes in the four Vermont towns, as well as similar votes in the New Hampshire towns across the river.

The votes are nonbinding, but Heatley says if the towns support the move, it would help riverfront property owners who say they're losing land while the hydro system generates revenue for the company.

"We just want to make sure that the landowners, and the local residents, are not being left out," she says. "If there are mitigation funds, we want everybody to get their fair share."

The debate over whether the dam system contributes to erosion has been going on for years.

A TransCanada spokeswoman says the company just released an extensive erosion study as part of the re-licensing.

It found that "complex and diverse factors have contributed to riverbank erosion within the lower Connecticut River," according to the spokeswoman.

She says the company will continue to work with people in New Hampshire and Vermont on a range of issues, including erosion, as the federal re-licensing process continues.

Howard Weiss-Tisman is Vermont Public’s southern Vermont reporter, but sometimes the story takes him to other parts of the state. 
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