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Environment and Outdoors

Pembroke Residents Wary of Tidal Project Proposal

Residents of Pembroke questioned developers of a controversial, tidal energy energy project at a contentious public hearing this afternoon in the small, Washington County town. Halcyon Tidal Power wants to harness the energy potential of the Bay of Fundy's massive tides by building a so-called "barrage" across the mouth of the Pennamaquan River. Today's hearing came after the company spent two days telling federal and state regulators about extensive research it plans to do on the potential impacts of the project.


Pembroke residents filled the town hall to capacity for the lunchtime meeting. Halcyon was required to hold the hearing as part of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's lengthy permitting process. It began with the company attempting to clear up what it sees as an ongoing misconception about the project---that the proposed structure is, essentially, a massive dam, stretching 1,600 feet from one side of the riverbank to the other.

"A dam is supposedly, by definition, a barrier which impounds water in a reservoir for a period of time, releasing it to generate power," said Ted Verrill. Verrill says Halcyon's facility uses underwater, bidirectional turbines that produce power when the tide is rising and ebbing. "All of the existing facilities only operate on an ebb tide cycle. So, essentially, they do have to impound water and they do change the intertidal zone."

"I looked up 'barrage' in the English dictionary and it said dam," says Robin Hadlock Seeley, who owns a house in Pembroke. "And National Marine Fisheries Service says, as far as they're concerned, it's a dam. So I will continue to use the word 'dam.' "

Besides being a local homeowner, Seeley is also a professor at Cornell University, and the academic coordinator for the Shoals Marine Lab on Appledore Island off Kittery. Seeley, and other local residents, worry that the $125 million project will irrevocably harm the delicate marine ecosystem in Cobscook Bay and the species that travel back and forth between the bay and the basin at the mouth of the Pennamquan River.

"Can scallops get through there? Absolutey not!" said Julie Keene, who lives in nearby Trescott. Keene comes from a family that has fished the waters of Cobscook Bay for generations. "I'm an elver fisherman. There's no way that eels will dive down to go through. And the lobsters that are up there. And the crabs that are up there. You know, the clam flats. Are they going to be smothered by the silt?"

Halcyon says the structure will have a lock system that allows boats to go to and from the Pennaquam basin. But Keene worries the lock system will slow down any rescues that might need to happen in the basin, if a boat gets in trouble.

"The drag gets hung down. Or the clam boat is sinking. Or somebody has fallen overboard. Mayday! Mayday! Mayday! Because how long are you going to last in the winter in that water up there, guys? And I'm tired of burying fishermen. I'm sick of it," Keene said.

There were concerns about what the project would do to property values in the area. Halcyon has hired two leading environmental firms to conduct more than 40 studies, looking at all of the project's potential risks. Utah physicist Ramez Atiyah is the company's Chief Technology Officer.

"And what we're just asking you to do is allow us to complete them so you can decide: Are these studies adaquate? Are they garbage? Are they substandard? Do they convince you?" Atiyah said.

Work will begin on those studies in the coming months. If the project gets all the required permitting, the company says construction could begin as early as 2016.