July 24, 2004 (Ver. 2 August 6, 2004)
by P. M. Eckel
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has its disciplinary eye on the New York Power Authority (NYPA) as NYPA seeks license to continue to utilize the public water supply to produce the hydroelectricity you are using as you read this essay, or that you have used to print a paper copy.
Please do not underestimate the value of this energy or
the privilege of being the beneficiary of an extraordinary technical
monument, which is the combined power synthesis of the Massena and
As I understand it, if you are utilizing energy generated at these facilities, you are both a customer of the Power Authority and, as a tax payer, you own a piece of it, since it is a hybrid agency whose board of governance half consists of representatives of the New York State government and half from the private sector (corporations that have purchased the bonds by which operation of the plants are financed). These interests are given a monopoly on power generation because it is in the public interest to ensure a regular, dependable source of energy, as well as an acknowledgement of the fantastic amount of money needed to be raised to build these projects, investment money deriving from the private sector.
In exchange for this monopoly privilege granted by the State of New York and the federal government, it is beholden on the Authority/utility to act, during the relicensing process, as though it had the patron-function (according to their hybrid governance structure) and accountability of a government based on a democratic model (as I interpret it). Not only must the Authority be profitable, they must see to the declared interests of the citizen-customers they serve.
The Authority is thus at least partially a representative government, and the relicensing process is an exercise in generating a mandate under which the private interests who profit from the generation and sale of electricity will best serve the citizens they supply during the next license term. This term could be 50 years, but probably should be shorter to accommodate a review in, perhaps 30 years, as the system is dependent on the watershed delivering an adequate volume of water within predictions of a deterioration of lake levels overall.
During the relicensing period, ongoing during the next several years, where the citizens and Authority governance are relatively transparent to one another, the customer-citizens are charged a higher rate, which is both a price for energy (as a custom) as well as a tax on citizens.
This higher rate/tax generates a fund of money whereby the citizens directly affected by the operations of the plants improve their regional infrastructure that may have been impaired by plant operations to the benefit of the market the Authority serves. These improvements are paid for by this relicensing tax (rate hike) in their electric bill.
This bill can amount to hundreds of millions of dollars that, considered as a sudden glut of wealth, can be potentially stupefying to beneficiaries who are unprepared.
This fund is a collective subsidy made by all the citizen-customers who utilize Authority-generated power sent to the affected communities.
Since this hydroelectric energy derives from the
It is incumbent upon the citizens associated with the
Firsthand experience of the condition of ecosystems, both aquatic and terrestrial along the river, reveals that whatever deterioration the power plants have had on the region, it is nothing at all compared with the devastation committed by the communities themselves irrespective of operations of the power entities. Such deterioration indicates a lack of local government preparedness to adopt and implement an environmental restoration mandate.
A large body of money suddenly released upon a citizenry generally, multilaterally, and unevenly or totally unprepared in attitude, ability, expertise or will, either individually, through its individual social institutions (such as education curricula) or governing bodies, or absence of expert bureaucrats, can have a destabilizing effect within the individual communities, or in how they interact.
Environmental restoration in its details must be formulated as soon as possible by the citizens and their representatives. The other customers in the energy market who are being taxed for the purpose of benefiting local communities demand that their rate hike/tax be rationally spent by the communities along the river, or by whomever the Settlement is applied to.
There are two basic types of environmental restoration (habitat here being assumed to be botanically based):
1. Passive. This method assumes that if disturbance regimes (whereby the habitats deteriorated in the first place) ceased, then nature would reassert herself. In an area where most of the species are exotic and/or invasive and are contributing their seeds to the natural reservoir by which habitat is to be recolonized, this form of restoration could be a disaster.
2. Active. This method implies a process of actively planting organisms that have roots (herbs, shrubs, trees). This method could be disastrous if the stock is alien or even if the stock is genetically dissociated from native stock already developed within the region.
Natural restoration must, as much as effort can be
expended, derive from native stock. It may appear to be an excessive
condition to emphasize the genetics of native stock, but the region has a
distinctive genetic heritage, associated with thousands of years of
post-glacial floristic recolonization of the aboriginal landscape. During that period adaptive pressures
unique to the region have been placed on the species establishing themselves
here first. There have been unique
hybridization and backcrossing events during past millenia in response to
variations in extended cold and hot periods. Our climax forest(s) occur on
the edge of huge continental ecosystems, such as the
example is the Oaks in the old growth forest in the north
A greenhouse and staff: Since there is a pitiful amount of native stock yet available in the settlement target region, and utilizing native stock by transplant, cuttings or seed harvest is in itself a threat to what is left, it is absolutely essential that there be a greenhouse facility and a fully qualified staff to run it.
There also needs to be a fully qualified field botanist and field ecologist. The field botanist is absolutely crucial to ensure that all herbaceous, shrub and tree species are correctly identified (many rare species are very difficult to get right). A field botanist is essential because the locality of native stock is to be carefully mapped and the characterization of the species community from which it derived and whence it is to be reintroduced requires expertise. Such a field botanist must be able to identify all vascular plants within the targeted floristic locality.
Also the land or habitat that native stock comes from should be protected by purchase, lien or other legal instrument, although this may not be necessary if the property owner gives permission and populations are successfully cultivated and reintroduced "into the wild."
A field ecologist is also crucial to assess and plan authentic plant community restoration based on what is (and what was) originally the case, or on analogy with similar habitat as close to the restored target as possible.
Horticulturists who specialize in the requirements of raising native stock are essential so that successfully reared adult specimens can be returned or reintroduced into the field.
Staff would need to design protection for reintroduced species or newly restored habitat that is initially vulnerable to imbalances (e.g. invasion of other species, temporary drought, failure to reproduce, predation, vandalism, dominance within interspecies competition, fertilizing, etc.).
Restoration, to have any credulity, must have the professionally staffed greenhouse as its basic tool. Implementation of this facility in not one but many of the affected communities would reintroduce another vanishing species into the labor pool - the now vanishing botanist/systematist. Such professions enrich the intellectual pool of a community, providing a source of expertise to many agencies and institutions, especially schools at every level and to all manner of regulatory agencies.
Emphasis must be made that these are professionals with expertise in botany, in the identification of all plants within the restoration mandate. Without such identification many ecological mistakes can be made, many natural assets of value damaged or destroyed.
There are so many communities that are expected by their central government (in the name of FERC among others), by their state government, and by the great body of fellow citizens and energy customers to see that the settlement fund is wisely governed by the wisdom of the numerous governments deemed affected by power-generation operations. Many of these communities already have greenhouse facilities in place to beautify parks, streets, businesses and public buildings inside and out. Greenhouse facilities exist to teach on the university, such as the University of Buffalo, Niagara University and Niagara County Community College, to name a few, and high school levels, and many have horticultural expertise - but none, it is assumed, has the ability to restore without the addition of the professional staff as discussed above.
pioneer proponent of the greenhouse element in this entire process is Robert
Baxter, head of the Niagara Heritage Partnership, and in whose honor I
dedicate this essay. He has displayed leadership as the organizer of many
public groups interested in removal of the
dominant or climax plant community in our area is an upland (as opposed
to a wet) mixed deciduous (as opposed to all evergreen) forest of some sort
(to be determined site by site). Typically it is dominated by Beech-Sugar
Maple trees but, especially along the crest of the Niagara River gorge, this
climax is shared by significant areas of Oak-Hickory-dominated vegetation -
one of the fascinating botanical characteristics of the
These trees along the crest produce a rain of nuts during late summer, to the benefit of the forested talus and riparian habitat on the lower slopes and rock platforms.
It must be borne in mind that the first beginnings in
restoration have already been undertaken all along the
We are referring, of course, to
The dedication of these creatures to whom we owe so much
for the existence of our forests along the
They will gnaw half of a golf ball away thinking it is the
fruit of that tree. In the fall, after
I filled a pail with some of the nuts showering down in
In the spring I discovered no less than six Black Walnut
trees sprung up about the yard (as weeds, me being an indifferent gardener) -
the forgotten buried treasure of a harried autumn squirrel. Just think! Imagine six Walnut trees planted in the
barren vista of the
If squirrels can do this, an army of children with acorns
in milk cartons under the guidance of educated teachers can support
introduction of more nut species.
Expertise in education and cultivation programs using children and
nut-growing enthusiasts may be sought in the American Chestnut Foundation
(contact New York Chapter president Herb Darling at firstname.lastname@example.org)
which has liaison with the
The Niagara Parks School of Horticulture just across the
Niagara River in
Ordinary people can have these productive trees
established in their yards, according to my experience, by laying nuts down
in the driveway. It is especially striking how easy and how important this is
when it is realized than the sister species to the Black Walnut, the
Butternut (Juglans cinerea), is on
the Watch List of the New York Heritage Program. It is a shame that such a
beautiful tree should be on its way to eradication from the
When the Parkway is removed between Devil's Hole and
community that can serve as a model for urban forest development is
The squirrel could be the symbol of community cooperation
in reforestation regimes professionalized with Settlement funds. One can
imagine a motto such as "Nuts for
I am grateful to Bob Baxter for his support and encouragement for not only myself but for those across many communities of people in the three Nations sharing his vision of beautiful habitat.