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Residents split over EPA plan

Agency proposes water discharge remediation

The proposed permit for the Bow power plant was met with equally impassioned support and admonishment last night, as commenters called it both an environmental achievement and a selfish, job-killing mandate.

The Environmental Protection Agency's public hearing came five weeks after officials there issued a new permit that would require Public Service of New Hampshire to install an expansive, multimillion-dollar cooling system at their Bow plant. EPA officials say the system is vital to lowering the temperature of water discharged into the Merrimack River and protecting wildlife habitats. PSNH officials, who did not comment at the hearing, have adamantly disputed those findings.

State Rep. Bill Ohm of Nashua last night said the EPA is not attempting to protect the community from any real pollutant threats such as sulfur dioxide or mercury.

'So what is this for? This is for clean water, warm water. This is to mitigate warm, clean water,' he said, pulling a wallet out of his pocket and holding it to the stage. 'That's $85 for every man, woman and child in New Hampshire to prevent warm, clean water from going into the Merrimack River.'

Others, though, said the water being discharged into the Hooksett Pool outside the plant is anything but clean. Several attendees from environmental organizations raised concerns about the water quality in the Merrimack River, which serves as a drinking supply for several downstream communities.

Catherine Corkery of the state's Sierra Club praised the EPA for requiring the new cooling system, saying the change is long overdue.

'It's about time,' she said to the more than 50 people in attendance. 'The Merrimack River has been abused and used and dumped on for too long. And the other abusers, if you will, have been eliminated and now we just have the Merrimack Station here in Bow as one of the few polluters left.'

The proposed closed-cycle-cooling system would come at an overall $121 million, or $9 million per year, price tag for PSNH. The plant has been operating under the current permit for nearly two decades, 14 years past its initial expiration date. PSNH officials have said there was little contact between them and the agency during that time period.

EPA officials said 40 years of data show that the current water intake system has dramatically affected fish populations around the plant. EPA biologist Eric Nelson said fish that seek warm water, such as bass, have been seen in increasing numbers there, while cool-water fish are scarce.

According to EPA officials, the new system would lower temperatures by drawing in 97 percent less water. The closed system would also save about 5,000 fish and more than 3 million fish eggs each year from getting trapped in the system's mechanisms, officials said.

Several fishermen, however, spoke last night to say they don't see the same harmful effects to the fish populations.

Rob Frye, an avid angler from Sandown, said he fishes in the Hooksett Pool several times a year because the waters are bountiful and can be navigated by boat even in the winter. He said it's true that warm-water fish are mostly found there, but that changes to habitats are not always a bad thing.

'If you build a city, people are going to come. It's not a bad thing that you build a city,' he said before the meeting. 'They built a plant and it's attracting the fish.'

Several public officials who spoke last night voiced concerns over how the system's hefty price would affect PSNH customers. New Hampshire House Speaker Bill O'Brien sent a letter to the EPA headquarters in Washington yesterday in which he said the permit showed 'great disregard' for the state's economy.

'At a time when we are doing everything we can to make New Hampshire more competitive and attractive to employers, the federal government is seeking to punish our residents and small businesses with higher electric rates through unnecessary regulation,' O'Brien said in the letter.

The public comment period on the proposed permit will end Feb. 28. EPA officials said last night it could be between six and 14 months until their review is complete and the final permit is issued.

(Tricia L. Nadolny can be reached at 369-3306 or tnadolny@cmonitor.com.)

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