Shad spawning due for big lifts Pact targets dams on Susquehanna

October 03, 1992|By Bruce Reid and Timothy B. Wheeler | Bruce Reid and Timothy B. Wheeler,Staff Writers

An agreement capping nearly two decades of negotiations is expected to result in the reopening of hundreds of miles of spawning habitat in the Susquehanna River for American shad and other migratory fish.

The agreement reached this week calls for three utility companies, including Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., to spend an estimated $30 million to build mechanical fish lifts at three Pennsylvania hydroelectric dams by the end of the century.

The three utilities agreed in principle this week to construct the lifts to get fish past Holtwood, Safe Harbor and York Haven dams in southern Pennsylvania.

The dams are all within 45 miles upstream of the 95-foot-high Conowingo Dam in Maryland, which was the subject of a similar agreement several years ago.

The agreement involving Conowingo Dam resulted in the construction of a $12.5 million fish lift that began operation last year.

A fish lift collects fish at the base of a dam and hoists them over the top much like an elevator carries people, enabling the fish to complete their journeys to reproduce.

For decades, the dams have kept the fish from completing instinctive migrations from the Atlantic Ocean through the Chesapeake Bay to freshwater spawning grounds that stretch into New York. However, the utilities have been paying to have some fish collected at Conowingo Dam and trucked beyond the barriers.

Taken as a whole, the Susquehanna effort may be the largest of its kind on the East Coast, rivaled only by similar work to restore shad to New England's Connecticut River.

"This is a great victory for the shad, the bay and the citizens of Maryland and Pennsylvania," said Michael F. Hirshfield, senior science adviser for the Annapolis-based Chesapeake Bay Foundation. "We may be seeing shad in Scranton [Pa.] within 20 years."

Shad, protected by a fishing ban in Maryland since 1980, used to swim as far upriver as Binghamton, N.Y., to spawn. The species supported important commercial and recreational fisheries throughout the Chesapeake, but it was hurt by overfishing and dam construction.

"This agreement exemplifies the state's continued commitment to the Chesapeake Bay and its natural resources," Gov. William Donald Schaefer said yesterday.

The agreement, reached Thursday at a meeting in Harrisburg, Pa., involves BG&E, part owner of Safe Harbor Dam, which is 22 miles upstream of Conowingo; Pennsylvania Power and Light Co., owner of Holtwood Dam, 15 miles upstream of Conowingo; and Metropolitan Edison Co., owner of York Haven Dam, 45 miles upstream of Conowingo.

State and federal agencies participating in negotiations included the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission.

The utilities agreed to build lifts at Holtwood and Safe Harbor dams by the spring spawning season of 1997 and to provide passage beyond York Haven Dam within three years after that.

State officials said the utilities were resisting agreement on the passages as late as last month, until the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which licenses the dams, pressured the companies for a progress report on the negotiations.

"We've never said we wouldn't build passages," said Dr. Elizabeth Bauereis, BG&E's director of environmental programs.

She said the utilities were waiting for the technology of the devices to improve and for the shad population in the bay to begin rebounding.

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