For Southern West Virginia's stagnant to slightly declining whitewater industry, being able to offer customers a new stretch of river to paddle would be a shot in the arm.
"In places across the country where you're seeing growth in the whitewater industry, you'll find shorter, half-day trips and a little mellower water," Bower said. "We think this could be our missing link. It's something we don't have in this part of West Virginia."
WVPRO would like a study to determine what release levels would be needed to provide a quality whitewater experience through the Dries, and whether such releases could be made without disrupting the power production needed to operate the Alloy plant.
The outfitters hope it will be feasible to receive three or four hours of augmented flow over the dam for several days a week between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Scheduled releases from dams to accommodate whitewater interests are nothing new, Bower said, citing Gauley River releases from Summersville Dam, and dam-enabled rafting in the Pigeon, Ocoee and Nantahala rivers in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina.
During FERC scoping meetings held in October, representatives of West Virginia Alloys said that any diversions of water over the Hawks Nest Dam not caused by flooding would add to their production costs by reducing generating capacity.
"We take every kilowatt that's generated" from the Hawks Nest power plant, Alloy plant manager Steven Pralley told FERC officials, according to a Beckley Register-Herald account of one of the meetings. "...As the river flow declines and their ability to produce power declines, there are days when we actually suffer load and production losses because we don't have enough power."
A Brookfield Renewable Energy subsidiary, Hawks Nest Hyrdo LLC, is licensed to operate the Hawks Nest dam and hydro plant. Brookfield also owns a newly refurbished and upgraded hydro plant at Glen Ferris, which recently resumed supplying power to the Alloy plant after being out of service since 2004. The added capacity of the Glen Ferris plant should be able to offset any reductions in power production caused by diversions from Hawks Nest Dam to accommodate whitewater interests, George said.
The Alloy plant also buys power off the grid when power production from the Hawks Nest hydro plant is insufficient.
George said Brookfield has proposed a Level 1 "desktop" study, using existing data and limited interviews, to provide FERC officials with the information they need to move forward with the licensing process. He said WVPRO seeks a Level 3 study, involving reconnaissance of power production and whitewater quality at multiple stream levels.
He said Level 3 studies are commonly used in the license evaluation process for hydroelectric projects across the country.
"We want a scientific assessment of the flows needed to support a whitewater industry in the Dries," said George. "A Level 3 study would do that, and would presumably also include information on flows needed to support the fishery and other aquatic life as well as examine the power needs of the Alloy plant."
"Let's have a real study and learn what the facts are," said Tom Sussman of TSG Consulting, a public relations firm representing WVPRO in the licensing process. "The bottom line is that the river is a public resource and belongs to everyone. For 80 years, the smelting plant and hydro plant have benefited exclusively. Maybe it's time the resource was shared. I think a happy balance can be found."
Reach Rick Steelhammer at rsteelham...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5169.