Boom blocking canal draws boos from fishermen, boaters

Haddam - Public objections to an orange boom that blocks access to a popular canal off the Connecticut River have prompted state environmental regulators to ask the owners of the Connecticut Yankee power plant site who installed the barrier to modify it.

"We've asked them to look at alternatives, such as removing it or moving it back," said Dennis Schain, spokesman for the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. "We're anxious for them to complete an evaluation of other options."

At issue is the May 2013 installation of the boom by Connecticut Yankee at the mouth of the milelong discharge canal of the decommissioned nuclear power plant, which closed in 1998. Remaining on 5.7 acres of the original 525-acre site are 43 dry casks storage units for radioactive waste.

During the 28 years the plant operated, the canal was used to take in and discharge cooling water from the plant. It is not a natural waterway. It was dug at the time the plant was constructed, Schain said. While the plant was open, the canal was not accessible to the public, he said.

Modifying the barrier by moving the location or changing the color to make it less of an eyesore will not satisfy those raising the loudest objections.

Norb Heil of East Hampton, head of the local chapter of Connecticut Valley Bassmasters fishing group, said he and others want the boom to be removed. Five weeks ago he and others launched an online petition at www.UglyOrangeBarrier.weebly.com that calls for removal of the boom, and it has thus far attracted more than 600 signatures. He said once the number tops 1,000 it will be sent to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, DEEP Commissioner Robert Klee and Haddam First Selectwoman Melissa Schlag .

"They did something illegal, and we're going to get it down," he said. "It's a state issue with national importance."

Heil, who fishes on the river three times a week, said the boom cuts off access to a popular area for anglers, kayakers and others that should be open to the public.

"There's never been an issue with the boaters in there," he said.

Alan Aronow, who lives near the site, agreed, saying that Connecticut Yankee "accomplished what no other private entity would ever be allowed to do - block a 'public trust' navigable waterway." The barrier was erected with no public warning or input, he added. He said DEEP should revoke the permit it granted Connecticut Yankee - after the boom was installed - and that the company should be required to reapply for a permit that would be subject to public hearings, submissions to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other "normal due process procedures."

The permit was issued in October 2013, months after the boom was installed.

Robert Capstick, spokesman for Connecticut Yankee, said the boom was placed in the same spot as it was when the plant was operating. It was reinstalled to enhance safety and security at the site, he said. Other recent enhancements include installation of a mechanized gate at the main entrance on the access road off Injun Hollow Road, he said.

In case of a radiological accident or security threat at the site, having members of the public in the canal would complicate efforts to secure the area, he said.

"The Connecticut Yankee Atomic Power Company believes that the safest location for the boom is at the edge of its property at the mouth of the canal where it meets the Connecticut River," the company said in a statement. "Moving the boom to a location further inward to a location not visible from the Connecticut River would not promote boater safety. A boater or jet skier could enter the canal at full speed, fail to recognized the boom, or be unable to reduce speed in order to avoid a collision with the boom."

The statement said that because of the public's concerns, the company has offered to work with the Haddam First Selectwoman and DEEP about possible modifications to the boom.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which regulates the spent fuel storage site, did not require Connecticut Yankee to install the boom, spokesman Neil Sheehan said.

"The security enhancements, including the boom, that were made by the owner ... were implemented in coordination with the state, but they did not require NRC approval," he said.

j.benson@theday.com

Twitter: @BensonJudy

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