THE BLADE/AMY E. VOIGT Enlarge | Buy This Photo
FirstEnergy Corp. is getting the chance to prove that its dual strategy for reducing fish kills at its Bay Shore power plant in Oregon will work.
The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency Friday announced it will renew the utility's wastewater-discharge permit at the plant for 4 1/2 years, from Jan. 1 through July 31, 2015.
The permit calls for the same reduction in fish kills that had been proposed in a draft document that went out for public comment last spring - at least 80 percent fewer impinged, or killed from being trapped against the plant's intake screens, and at least 60 percent fewer entrained, or sucked through the hot plant by its powerful intake current.
The only difference between what was proposed and what was made final is that the deadline was moved up by 18 months, Ohio EPA spokesman Dana Pierce said, to April 1, 2013, instead of Oct. 1, 2014.
"Moving the date up will reduce two peak seasons of fish kills, which are highest during the April-to-June fish migration period," the agency said in its news release.
The permit also provides FirstEnergy a variance from tougher federal rules for mercury releases into the water, giving the utility more time to phase in improvements.
Confronted by public outcry last spring, FirstEnergy said Friday it is pleased by the agency's decision.
At an April 22 hearing, several area residents demanded the installation of a $100 million cooling tower.
Cooling towers greatly reduce water intake and reduce fish mortalities by 95 percent, making them the most effective devices at saving fish. But their price tag keeps them out of reach for many plants.
The Bay Shore facility, built in 1955, is in a unique situation.
It sits in a modified estuary where the Maumee River meets western Lake Erie's Maumee Bay, one of the Great Lakes region's most valuable spawning areas. It kills more fish than all others in Ohio combined and is one of the largest sites for fish kills in the region.
FirstEnergy's consultant estimates that Bay Shore kills up to 46 million adults and 14 million juveniles a year when operating at full capacity.
More than half - 24 million emerald shiners and 14 million gizzard shad - are bait fish that support the Great Lakes region's $7 billion fishery. About $1 billion of that economic impact is in Ohio alone.
Records submitted by the utility also show an estimated 209 million fish eggs and 2.2 trillion microscopic fish in their larval form being pulled through screens and killed inside the plant each year.
Since last spring, FirstEnergy has announced scaled-back operations for three of the four units, saying the action was in response to the lackluster economy and less demand for industrial power, not because of fish.
Prior to that, the utility installed several underwater shutterlike devices known as reverse louvers for a pilot study to see if they can be deployed on a larger scale to divert fish around the plant. The utility paid $500,000 to have enough installed for a two-year test run.
"Between the two of those, we will be able to meet the impingement and entrainment requirements," said Mark Durbin, FirstEnergy spokesman. "Our focus all along has been on this system that we think will work, the louvers."
Contact Tom Henry at: