Critical Sturgeon Habitat Near Indian Point Prompts Federal Reviews

Dec 19, 2017

Federal agencies are weighing in on how a new designation recently issued for the sturgeon habitat near Indian Point impacts the Westchester nuclear power plant that is set to close by 2021. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has declared its findings while another agency is still reviewing the matter.

In August, National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries designated critical habitat for the endangered Atlantic sturgeon, from Maine to Florida. The portion of the Hudson River affected by Buchanan-based Indian Point is included in one of the five critical habitats, the New York Bight. With this declaration, NRC staff consulted with NOAA Fisheries regarding impacts from the plant’s continued operation on the Atlantic sturgeon. NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan says his agency, the National Marine Fisheries Service and Indian Point’s parent company Entergy held a meeting in October.

“And there were some concrete actions to come out of that,” Sheehan says. “And so now we have written, based on everything that we learned at that meeting, we’ve written to the National Marine Fisheries Service saying, we would like your formal take that there won’t be an adverse impact but, based on what we’re seeing so far and the additional steps that the company has committed to that we believe that the plant will not have an adverse impact for the remaining operational life.”

Sheehan says given the endangered species and critical habitat designation, it was incumbent upon the NRC to consider the effects the plant could have on the Atlantic sturgeon until it closes. He says National Marine Fisheries Service is the controlling agency in this matter and the NRC awaits NMFS’ determination. Julie Crocker is acting assistant regional administrator in the Protected Resources Division of the National Marine Fisheries Service. She says that in August, her agency responded to a request from the NRC to consider effects of continued operation of Indian Point on the proposed critical habitat designation, saying it was "not likely to adversely affect" the proposed critical habitat.”  Now that the critical habitat designation is in place, Crocker says the NRC has asked that NMFS confirm that this conclusion is still valid. Crocker says her agency is reviewing that request and expects to have a response in early 2018.  Meantime, the NRC’s Sheehan says Entergy has proposed additional monitoring.

“One of the things they’re doing is they’re going to be monitoring the intakes at the plant even more closely,” says Sheehan. “They’re going to bring in a consultant who will do periodic checks to look for any evidence of the Atlantic sturgeon being harmed by the remaining operational life of the plant. And so we think with those checks in place that there’s good outcome to this issue.”

This proposed sturgeon monitoring would be at the plant’s water intakes on the Hudson and occur two to three days a week during April and May and again during September and October. Spokesman Jerry Nappi says Entergy is working with state and federal agencies to finalize a monitoring plan for Atlantic sturgeon. Manna Jo Greene is environmental action director of nonprofit Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, whose mission is to preserve and protect the Hudson.

“Monitoring is a good first step but, if the National Marine Fisheries Service can recommend an even more protective action, that would be very valuable because both the Atlantic and the shortnose sturgeon are endangered, and 13 of the signature Hudson River fish are still in decline,” says Greene.

She adds:

“Indian Point takes 2.5 billion gallons a day for its cooling system, its once-through cooling system,” Greene says.

Intakes that Greene says increase the chances of fish kills. Nappi says Indian Point operations are fully protective of the Hudson River ecosystem.