Since the start of a federal relicensing process for the Hawks Nest Hydro project, two industries with a significant economic footprint in Fayette County that seldom have reason to meet -- tourism and silicon metal manufacturing -- are both talking about what they need to succeed in the future.
For the whitewater industry, it's more water released through Hawks Nest Dam. For West Virginia Manufacturing in Alloy, it's all the power that Hawks Nest Hydro can produce.
But those in the whitewater industry say it doesn't have to be one or the other.
"The vast majority of successful whitewater rafting only exists because of a partnership between hydro dams and recreation," Brian Campbell of Adventures on the Gorge told Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) representatives at a Thursday meeting at Hawks Nest State Park.
"At times they are somewhat in conflict where it reduces generation capacities of the project in question. That doesn't mean you shouldn't try to strike a balance."
The whitewater industry in Fayette County, which has seen revenues flatten in recent years, is hoping to one day offer rafting trips down The Dries of the New River, dependent on controlled releases from Hawks Nest Dam.
Owned by Brookfield Renewable Energy, the hydro facility generates 25-cycle power for nearby silicon metal manufacturer West Virginia Manufacturing, known locally as Alloy. The hydro plant was specifically designed to power the furnaces at Alloy, which consumes the plant's entire output.
So, are the needs of Alloy and the electric utility compatible with expanded opportunities for whitewater recreation on The Dries? Fayette County's whitewater industry is calling for an in-depth study to find out.
"Let's see what's viable, what works, what is the optimum level on The Dries for a very family-friendly experience, and what are the impacts on the (Hawks Nest) dam and hydro generation when we do that," says Campbell.
The FERC re-licensing process provides an opportunity to reassess how much water flows through The Dries, a 5.5 mile stretch of low water from the dam to Gauley Bridge.
The scoping document currently calls for a level 1 "desktop study" of appropriate flows, which the whitewater industry says is insufficient.
Long a world-class playground for kayakers when heavy rains wet the river, The Dries could also attract rafters if its current minimum flow of 100 cubic feet per second (cfs) were expanded.
Campbell and his colleagues say The Dries could offer a "unique product," unlike that offered on the tame Upper New, the raucous Lower New, or the raging Gauley. It would be something in between extremes, suitable for families.
"The products that are growing are the short-format, 5-6 mile, class 3 rivers scheduled on dam releases. That is the formula for success in this country," he says.
The rafting companies are also asking for an accurate gauge that measures the river flow below the dam in cfs, which would allow them to better understand The Dries' recreational potential.
Paul Buechler, CEO of Adventures on the Gorge, says he wants to "focus on facts" during the re-licensing.
"Throughout this process, I think we're going to hear that if Hawks Nest Dam gives up one drop of water, it's going to impact...jobs and result in layoffs and possibly closure of the plant," he says.
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