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Seneca’s Kinzua Dam Proposal Focuses on Environment, Economic Development at Federal ‘Scoping Meeting’

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has held its first series of “scoping meetings” on the Seneca Nation of Indians’ application for the license to operate the Kinzua Dam, a massive hydroelectric facility built on land expropriated from the nation more than 50 years ago.

Several of the federally mandated scoping meetings take place over the five-year long relicensing process aimed at identifying environmental and other concerns in order to conduct an Environmental Assessment of the project. Representatives from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) hold the meetings in the area of the project to get input from local governments, nonprofit organizations and the general public.

Seneca filed its application documents with the FERC on Nov. 30 for the license to operate the Seneca Pumped Storage Project at Kinzua Dam. The nation will compete for the permit against the current owner, FirstEnergy Generation Corp. of Akron, OH. The current 50-year license to operate the pumped storage project expires in 2015.

“The Nation has suffered profound social, cultural, economic and other harms from the taking of our homes and lands to construct and maintain the Kinzua Dam and the Allegheny Reservoir,” Seneca Nation President Robert Odawi Porter said at a press conference before the scoping meetings took place in Warren, PA., and Alleghany, N.Y., on Feb. 24 and 25. “The pumped storage project uses the Seneca Nation’s treaty-reserved land and waters for its operations every day, but the current licensee has no rights to those sovereign assets. They’ve been taken from us unlawfully. The Seneca Nation bears all the burdens of the project, but receives no benefits.

The Kinzua Dam near Warren, PA., was authorized by Congress with the Flood Control Acts of 1936 and 1938 and built by the Army Corps of Engineers 1960 and its opening in 1965. The purpose of the $108 million dam was flood control and pollution flushing, but in 1970 the federal government also gave away the right to generate hydropower to private, for-profit utility companies – now estimated at $13 million in profits annually.

The government forced 147 Seneca families out of their homes on 10,000 acres of their treaty-protected lands in a fertile valley, and relocated them several miles away. The homes were burned and the land was flooded to build the Allegheny Reservoir. The flooded land drowned significant cultural, sacred, and ceremonial sites, including a Longhouse and burial grounds.

Brenda Deeghan, a Seneca citizen who was a child when the Kinzua Dam was built, told the FERC representatives of the trauma it brought to her family.

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“I heard it from my teacher in school one day that they were going to burn our school and our house down. That day I went home and cried. As a result of the Dam we lost a way of life—call it culture. We were not just relocated; we were stripped of a way of life. We lost things we cannot get back. These are some of the things that the FERC must consider,” she said.

In early February, the nation formed Seneca Energy LLC, a new company to handle and diversify its energy development.

The Seneca Nation is offering improved environmental stewardship as part of the benefits the nation will provide as owner and operator of the dam.

“For more than 40 years, our shared resources upstream of the Seneca Pumped Storage Project have been ignored. This is our first opportunity as stewards of our environment to speak out about the environmental issues that plague the Allegheny Reservoir. We are proposing more than 20 studies to ensure that those environmental concerns are addressed. The Seneca Nation’s plan for the power project is to better manage those resources now and into the future,” Porter said.

Porter also said the nation will aim to generate economic growth in the area as well as electricity by returning benefits to the region through investments and development.

“The current licensee, FirstEnergy, an out of state corporation, has done little to nothing to give back to the region economically despite making huge profits from local resources for nearly 50 years,” Porter said.

A number elected officials, including state senators George Maziarz and Mark Grisanti have supported the Seneca application in comments to the federal agency.

FERC will award the license in November 2015.