FERC Lake Martin Meeting Recap

The Lake Martin community has a once in every 40 year chance to influence our lake’s water levels. Alabama Power is in the final days of getting their “rule curve” and license from FERC. A couple of weeks ago FERC had a public meeting in which to hear discussion about their recent proposed response to AL power. In short, Alabama Power asked to bring the lake down only seven feet in the winter instead of the current ten. They also asked for the discretion, weather permitting, to have an optional full pool period into October, instead of starting to draw it down after Labor Day.

If all of this is news to you and you have no idea what I am talking about, read this post first and its related links. If you are up on the news, and have been waiting on my summary, sorry I am so late in posting it. The meeting was very eventful.

Let me try and boil down a lot of information into a few key points:

1)  Great turnout!

The Lake Martin community made its presence known.  I saw people from all over.  Well done, stakeholders!! Many groups and businesses put out the call for attendance and the response was awesome. I am not taking credit in any way, this response was way bigger than anything I could orchestrate, but I would like to personally thank the people that came because of my email. I know some folks came from as far away as Atlanta! According to the folks at CACC, the capacity in the main room was 600. They had so many people show up that they created an overflow room. I was in the main room so I have no idea how many were in the overflow, but I think that 700 total people is a pretty good estimate. The meeting started at 6:30 and by 5:30 people were already getting there. Check out the packed house below:

2)  Lots of people had to chance to speak.

From regular folks to company executives, Lake Martin stakeholders were able to address FERC’s representatives.  First, they started with elected representatives, so this consisted mainly of Alabama State Representatives and Senators. They did a pretty good job, and of course, the they were all in favor of Alabama Power’s suggestion of a 7 foot draw down in the winter and the optional fall full pool in autumn. They all touched on the huge economic potential of such a change.  I thought that Mark Tuggle did the best job of combining the facts with persuasion. After the elected representatives spoke, then a person from Alabama Power spoke. I thought this would have been Jim Crew, who is in charge of re licensing.  Instead it was another fellow whose name escapes me, sorry. He did a nice job. Then they threw it open to anyone else in the public, and we had four minutes each. In order to speak, you had to fill out a form with your name and topic. I was surprised when they called my name to speak first in this section. I guess I was the first one to fill out a form since I got there an hour early. I had some remarks prepared. I had just written “An Open Letter To FERC” – my article submission for Lake Magazine‘s August Issue. I decided to read it as my speech. But while I was waiting around, I felt like it was too long for that forum, so I edited it back pretty viciously. You can see my speech as made at the end of this post.

Some folks from LMRA and the Lake Martin HOBOs also spoke in favor. Then Steve Forehand, Secretary and General Counsel with Russell Lands, got up and spoke. Steve did an awesome job. Of course, as Lake Martin’s largest private landowner, Russell Lands stands to gain when property values increase. That’s obvious and it surprised no one that they are in favor of Alabama Power’s proposed EIS. But what was interesting to me was how Steve reminded everyone of the intense study that has happened for the last six years, and how all of the diverse stakeholders (upstream, downstream, and all around) were taken into account. He laid out, in sober detail, the solid math that supports the environmental and economic reasons for Alabama Power’s requests.

One of the best speakers of the evening was the manager of Winn Dixie in Alexander City.  He talked about the huge disparity between the amount of merchandise sold in the summer and the winter.  He said that the gross sales difference in his store between summer and winter is $70,000 per week. Wow. He said at $2.30 per item, that’s 30,000 items that are not getting stocked by his employees or outside vendors coming to the community. If stock is not moving, he can’t retain his stock guys year round.  These are real people who struggle financially in the off season and could really benefit by extending the lake season.  I know he was just one example of the hundreds of businesses in Elmore, Tallapoosa and Coosa counties and beyond.

Another home run hitter was Kenneth Boone. He owns the Alexander City Outlook and the Dadeville Record, as well as Lake Magazine and Lake Martin Living Magazine, et al. He talked about the potential positive impact that a higher winter pool and a longer full pool season would have for him. He pointed out that, while he does not live on the lake, his businesses literally circle it.  Kenneth also put out hard numbers if the differences in summer and winter time revenue.

Here are a few pictures of various Lake Martin stakeholders I took during their speeches to FERC:

3)  Alabama Power is still working with FERC

Apparently there is more info that needs to be shared, and Alabama Power is working to provide this info.  At the very end of the nearly three hours of listening, the FERC folks finally spoke up. Someone from the crowd asked, cannily, “what do you need to give us 7 feet and optional full pool to October?” FERC responded by saying that everything they base their decisions on must be in Alabama Power’s application. And, they added, based on what’s in there now, we don’t see the evidence that a 7 foot winter drop will be OK. We would need more evidence. This was a ray of sunshine to me, because when I talked to each of the FERC folks separately before the meeting, they sort of acted like it would be a rarity for them to change their minds. That comment opened the door a bit for me mentally. After FERC said that, Jim Crew from Alabama Power finally stood up to talk. I suppose Mr. Crew remained silent during the meeting to give everyone else a chance to talk, even though he is clearly the expert. I also suppose there is a bit of strategy involved in letting other people make your points for you. At any rate, when he did stand up to talk, he said, in effect, “hey, we thought we addressed these points, but I am hearing we didn’t do enough. We will do whatever we can, supply whatever we can, to get the 7 foot winter drop and the optional fall full pool.” This was met with resounding applause.

4)  There is no resolution or ruling yet, so we’ll all have to stay tuned.

I wish I could say we know the fate of this re-licensing process, but we don’t.  There were a lot of great points made in favor of raising the winter water level and extending the full pool season by three months. But it was clear to me that this public meeting was just another thing FERC had to check off in the relicensing process. Ostensibly, they were there to listing in case any “new data” was presented. I judged from their tone and response at the end of the meeting that they felt none was. However, since they did talk about the possibility of Alabama Power giving enough new information that would help. FERC gave no time frame. We will just have to wait and see.

5)  597 to 3

Yes, there were some speakers that were against a seven foot winter pool. Three, exactly. Since I don’t know ho many were in the overflow room, I score the night 597 pro and 3 against. I won’t give them equal ink since they were so entirely outnumbered. One said he was a regular dude, a teacher, that owned land downstream of Lake Martin. He said he wanted to “put a face” with people that “y’all are trying to flood out.” I was surprised that an academic would make such a statement in light of the facts presented in Alabama Power’s application. The math on such a remote possibility should ease his fears.

Also, Trey Taylor spoke. He is an Elmore County Commissioner for District 2. He also identified himself as a cotton farmer whose crops might be affected by higher winter pools. Put aside the fact that no Alabama cotton farmer worth one bole would have cotton in the ground in October. Has he read the studies that show the slightly higher pools on Lake Martin would have no affect on him? I don’t think he has. I was flabbergasted that an Elmore County politician would be against this. Surely he realizes the huge economic impact to his county. Surely he realizes that a huge portion of Elmore County’s property tax comes from Lake Martin? Maybe not. If you are an Elmore County resident whose livelihood even remotely is helped by Lake Martin, click on his link above and contact him. My office is in Elmore County and I plan to let him know I do not support his reelection.  A person stood up after him and said that Mr. Taylor owns a lot of acreage and that was his motivation. I don’t know that to be a fact, but I do know that Mr. Taylor’s family is quite vested in the cotton business. One drive down 229 south of Tallassee confirms that.  Mr. Taylor gets the “cutting the nose off despite the face” award of the night in my book.

The last opponent that spoke was Robert Morris, a self described “lawyer from Slapout.” Mr. Morris was easily the longest and least tolerated speaker of the evening. He launched into a review of his unsuccessful attempt to sue Alabama Power in 2005 on behalf of landowners that felt the power company’s water control hurt the landowners’ interests. The suit was dismissed by summary judgement, which I think means the judge rules that you don’t have enough evidence to go to trial. Anyhoo, Mr. Morris went on at length. So much length, in fact, that FERC asked him to wrap it up (the only time all night they were forced to do so). He went on for another five minutes.  He started to receive some scattered booing.  I think his entire speech was a grand ruse to troll for new clients. He was applauded, though, when he said “In closing…….” – the place erupted in cheers, he cut his sentence off, and mercifully left the podium. If he expected the crowd to be a rich till of Alabama Power haters, he miscalculated astronomically.

6)  What Can You Do? Act before August 13, 2013!

Lots of people who could not make the meeting are wondering what they can do to show their support of Alabama Power’s attempt to drop the lake only 7 feet in the winter, and have an optional full pool to October. You can go to FERC’s website and use their eComment or eFiling tool to let them know. You will be asked what project you are commenting on, and it’s the Martin Dam Hydroelectric Project, its number is P-349-173. It must be typed exactly like: P-349-173

YOU MUST DO THIS BY AUGUST 13 or IT WON’T MATTER.

If you are wondering what to write, see the LMRA site – they make the point that we would be well advised to be a unified vote. Just say that you support Alabama Power’s proposed 7 foot winter pool and the optional fall full pool. The cutoff from FERC is August 13, 2013.

And if you’re interested, here’s what I had to say:

Like I said, I edited my August article for Lake Magazine. In the magazine, it will be fuller and (hopefully) less choppy. I didn’t want to risk boring the FERC folks and other listeners with too many examples and too many sidebars, so I cut it way down. Here’s my speech exactly as I read it:

**************************

An Open Letter to FERC:

I have two points to cover in respectful disagreement with your Draft EIS for the Martin Dam Relicensing Project.

First, I think that you are severely limiting the scope of what you define as stakeholders. For instance, the statement that the optional full pool period in the fall would only benefit property owners is tantamount to saying that three extra home games played by the Washington Redskins would only benefit the season ticket holders.

Sure, the season ticket holders would love an extra Redskins game. But they would only represent the tip of the iceberg. Think about the business that sells hotdogs; the folks that work the parking lots; the people selling souvenirs. Beyond that, hotels, restaurants, taxis and convenience stores surrounding FedEx Field would love the extra games. More importantly, what if those three extra games provided enough income that the businesses could hire three extra people each? Or make their part time employees full time? Or allow a worker to finally save enough money to retire with dignity, go to school or start another business?

Extending the fall full pool season is like giving us three extra home games. The community can be transformed into a year round economy. Please don’t think the benefits are limited to property owners only. Can someone be a Wolverine outside of Michigan? Or pull for the Fighting Illini from D.C.? Or cheer The Dawgs from the Southwest? Of course.

Another thing that I think you need to reconsider is limiting the winter pool to 10 feet. Your Draft EIS claims that 10 feet is needed to allow for flood control.   I would like to question why you think, after about 40 years of dropping the lake 10 feet, that it still needs such a huge margin of error to help mitigate the danger of downstream flooding? In short, it doesn’t, because technology has increased quite a bit since 1973 when the current license was written.

I am old enough to remember watching the weatherman on TV as he gave the daily prediction on a chalkboard. Yes, the weatherman stood at a chalkboard and drew clouds or pictures of the sun in various emotional states, along with pictures of wind, rain and occasionally snow. If he was good enough, he drew the cloud actually puffing and blowing the wind. Needless to say, we were not able to zoom in on his chalk scribblings at a neighborhood level to see where it would rain. Again, that was 40 years ago. Computers that we now consider feeble took up entire rooms. Today, even the iPhone in my pocket can provide weather prediction at the street level.

Common sense tells us that the long lead times for weather prediction 40 years ago are no longer needed. 

Please don’t let an entire lake and its people be held hostage by 1973 technology. Dump the chalkboard. Check your favorite weather app and let us lower the lake only 7 feet in the winter.

Respectfully,
John Coley

***************************

Further links:

Alex City Outlook Coverage:

Hundreds Pack Public Meeting

Ala Power: The Voices Were Heard

Coverage from WSFA Channel 12 in Montgomery:  Hundreds pack hearing on future of Lake Martin water levels

also:

WTVM.com-Columbus, GA News Weather

Tags: , , , ,