The numbers are staggering: 60 million fish - 46 million of them adults - are killed each year by the powerful intake of FirstEnergy Corp.'s coal-fired Bay Shore power plant in Oregon.
Bay Shore's intake also destroys 209 million fish eggs, and 2,247 million fish in their larval form annually by pulling them through screens and into the plant, according to a 2009 report generated by one of the utility's paid consultants.
The annual carnage is believed to be one of the worst in the Great Lakes region, although Bay Shore is just a midsized facility.
FirstEnergy's consultant passed the report along to the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency last year after crunching 2005-06 sampling data for more than two years. The state EPA then spent the past year reviewing it.
So now, after a promise to toughen up requirements, what has the state environmental regulator tentatively decided to have FirstEnergy do about the problem?
Study it more.
Beginning Monday, FirstEnergy will initiate a pilot project in which it will install reverse louvers - devices that resemble upside-down shutters - in the plant's intake channel. The hope is that the slotted, angled devices will allow only a fraction of the fish from getting pounded to death against intake screens or drawn into the plant, where nearly all die.
The vast majority of fish, ideally, would be diverted around the plant.
The additional research is coming in lieu of a cooling tower, which can cost $100 million or more but save upwards of 90 percent of the fish swimming in the channel.
Financing such a device also could raise Toledo-area electricity rates more than 6 percent, according to information in a report the utility provided last year to a government consultant.
The potential impact on rates was made public during a March 3, 2009, meeting at Wynn Elementary School by Paul Novak, the Ohio EPA's manager of surface-water permits and compliance.
Ellen Raines, FirstEnergy spokesman, said talk of a cooling tower is on hold until the research with reverse louvers is completed.
The Ohio EPA said in a proposed permit it issued for discussion recently that it will give FirstEnergy through the end of 2010 to see how the untested technology works, then spend nearly a year reviewing the data itself before issuing its finding by Sept. 1, 2011.
If all goes as planned, FirstEnergy will have until May 1, 2013, to break ground on permanent installation and can take until Oct. 1, 2014 to have it operating. The permit would be valid through Jan. 31, 2015.
That timetable doesn't sit well with some people, such as Oregon activist Sandy Bihn.
She and members of the group she founded, Western Lake Erie Waterkeeper Association, have been campaigning for quicker, decisive action at the plant, which for 55 years has sat in the confluence of one of the Great Lakes region's most productive fish nurseries, a highly sensitive area where the Maumee River meets the Maumee Bay.
They claim the Lake Erie fishery, though already one of the world's best, hasn't begun to scratch its potential.
Saving more fish could be an economic boon for the Toledo area's depressed economy by stimulating the region's tourism and recreation industries, they claim.
The Ohio EPA acknowledged last year and in its latest fact sheet that Bay Shore likely "impinges and entrains more fish than all of the other power plants in Ohio combined."
Impingement is the act of death or severe injury caused to fish when water intakes slam them against screens. Entrainment is the word for eggs, larvae, and juvenile fish small enough to slip through the screens and get drawn into the plant, which operate at several hundred degrees.
"The permit delays action too long," Ms. Bihn said. "Fish are important to Ohio's economy, providing an estimated 10,000 jobs and $800 billion in economic activity."
She said fishermen "would pay thousands in fines and serve jail time if they did what Bay Shore does each and every day."
Ms. Raines and another FirstEnergy spokesman Mark Durbin said the utility believes reverse louvers have great potential to do the job affordably. The company believes it will be worth the time investing in more research, they said.
"We have a responsibility to our customers and company to make the right decisions," Ms. Raines said.
Mike McCullough, an Ohio EPA environmental specialist, and Dina Pierce, an agency spokesman, said the state regulator can consider costs when setting permit requirements.
A cooling tower is "still a possibility" if the reverse louvers aren't shown to be effective enough.
The Ohio EPA is attempting to get an 80 percent reduction in fish kills via impingement and a 60 percent reduction in entrainment to comply with a federal edict imposed on the states in 2004.
The federal mandate came in response to a lawsuit won by national environmental groups that had claimed the government wasn't protecting fish enough by exercising the power it has under the Clean Water Act, one of the nation's landmark environmental laws.
An April 22 meeting is being scheduled for the public to weigh in on this and other aspects of Bay Shore's next water-discharge permit.
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