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Sierra Club worries Ravenswood plant kills fish

Irene Van Slyke (l. to r.), Jonathan Geballe and Thelma Fellows explain the Sierra Club's concerns about water withdrawal from the East River. Photo by Juan Soto
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The Sierra Club is asking a judge from Queens Supreme Court to require that the state Department of Environmental Conservation review the issuing of the first water withdrawal permit given to the Ravenswood Power Plant because the organization claims withdrawing water from the East River is killing fish.

The challenge by the grassroots environmental group along with the Hudson River Fisherman was filed last Friday. The authorization by the state agency allows the Long Island City-based plant to use up to 1.5 billion gallons of water a day from the East River. The permit is valid until 2017.

According to the Sierra Club, the DEC failed to order the power plant to have a closed-cycle cooling system in place.

“I hope the judge decides to have a hearing on this,” said Jonathan Geballe, attorney for the organization. “We believe we have a strong case.”

Geballe calculates that in about two months the Queens Supreme Court judge will make a decision.

“It’s up to the judge to have a hearing or not,” he added. “We are talking about just one plant that uses up to 1.5 billion gallons of water a day.”

For the petitioners’ attorney, the authorization given to the power plant “was done inappropriately and the DEC has to review it.”

A spokeswoman for DEC said the state agency does not comment on pending litigation.

The plant drains water from the East River for its cooling system. Ravenswood is a 2,480-megawatt plant that combines cycle and combustion turbine technology. It has the capacity to serve some 21 percent of New York City’s peak energy needs.

The Sierra Club wants the DEC to complete a full environmental review of the authorization, claiming the plant’s water intake system kills large amounts of fish eggs and thousands of fish by filtering out unwanted materials.

The Ravenswood permit was the first issued under the state’s new water legislation, approved back in 2011. The law was put into place to monitor large withdrawals from rivers and lakes.

“We are not trying to close down the power plant,” said Irene Van Slyke of the Sierra Club. “We just want the plant to have a better cooling system and have an environmental impact review done.”

She added that “with a closed-cycle cooling system, those fish kills can be reduced up to 98 percent.”

Closed-cycle systems reuse cooling water, unlike through cooling systems, which intake water from the body of water.

The Sierra Club estimates that by the end of the year, DEC will receive up to 16 applications for water withdrawal permits from electric generating facilities.

Reach reporter Juan Soto by e-mail at jsoto@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

Updated 3:15 pm, June 16, 2014
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