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NJ DEPT. OF ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION NEWS RELEASE
RELEASE: 12/8/00
149/00
CONTACT: Sharon A. Southard or Amy Collings
609-984-1795 or 609-292-2994

DEP PROPOSES RENEWAL OF PSEG DISCHARGE PERMIT

The state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is proposing to renew PSEG's permit to use water from the Delaware River to operate the cooling system at the Salem Nuclear Generating Station.

The current five-year permit issued in July 1994 remains in effect while the DEP reviews and seeks public comment on the 36-volume permit application and 137 volumes of attached reference material, submitted in March 1999. DEP hired an independent consultant, ESSA Technologies of Toronto, to assist in analyzing parts of the application. There will be two public hearings on the proposed permit held: Jan. 23 at Pennsville Memorial High School from 3 - 5 p.m. and again from 7 - 10 p.m., and on Jan. 25 at Cumberland County College in Vineland from 2 - 5 p.m. and from 7 - 10 p.m.

The permit issued in 1994 included several conditions to reduce fish mortality and increase fish propagation. Some were required under the Clean Water Act and others were voluntarily proposed by PSEG. These conditions included improved intake screens and fish buckets to reduce the number of fish entering the plant, a limit on intake flow, the study of sounding devices to deter fish from entering the intakes, installation of fish ladders, and a major wetlands restoration project, considered the largest privately funded wetlands restoration project in the nation, to enhance habitat for fish propagation.

The modified intake screens have smaller and less injurious openings that are more effective in reducing fish mortality. Specially designed buckets also help reduce fish mortality by suspending the fish in a curved lip that reduces injury, before the fish are returned to the estuary via the fish return system.

"After very careful analysis, we have determined that at this time the applicant complies with the terms and special conditions in its existing permit," said DEP Commissioner Bob Shinn. "However, we are proposing additional requirements as a contingency for renewal. Our main objectives are to minimize losses associated with the water intakes and to maximize opportunities to increase fish populations in the Delaware River estuary to further offset these losses."

New conditions in the proposed permit renewal include a requirement to study the use of light in combination with the sound system, to deter the fish from entering the facility. The use of sound alone has not proven to be effective on all species, so a combination of deterrents is being proposed, as the best technology available, according to DEP Assistant Commissioner Dennis Hart. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service provided comments on the March permit application, recommending that the use of sound be further investigated.

In addition, the proposed permit would require PSEG to continue its wetlands restoration project, continue the review process provided by the estuary enhancement oversight committee, and refine its biological monitoring program to obtain more accurate data on the plant's impact on fish populations and the effectiveness of the fish ladders and wetlands enhancements. The company also must refine its plant-related sampling and analyses including loss estimates and an updated study of the hydrodynamics at the intakes. DEP also is requiring enhancements to the fish return system so that the water is less turbulent and therefore less stressful to the fish.

The existing permit issued in July 1994 requires the company to restore, enhance or preserve 14,500 acres of wetlands in and around the Delaware estuary to improve habitat for fish propagation. It specifically requires the company to purchase a minimum of 8,000 acres of degraded wetlands plus 6,000 acres of upland buffers (or an additional 2,000 acres of degraded wetlands). The required work is on-going at eight sites: Alloways Creek, Cohansey River, Maurice River Twp., Commercial Twp., Dennis Twp., the Bayside Tract, and two sites in Delaware - Cedar Swamp and The Rocks.

The restoration projects have 12 years to become successful, and so far all are on track with acceptable levels of vegetative growth recorded and verified in aerial photos and field inspections. Four of the eight sites were dominated by phragmites, and the reduction of phragmites is progressing at all four sites. Phragmites is a tall, widespread, marsh plant that chokes out other plant life and raises ground elevation thus reducing fish habitat, and productivity. Phragmities reduction is progressing through the use of various eradication methods, including a limited use of herbicides. However, phragmites reduction and herbicide application are not the subject of this draft permit.

"If it becomes apparent that phragmities reduction cannot occur without repeated pesticide applications, DEP will require PSEG to substitute other wetlands or uplands acreage to meet its permit requirements," said Hart. "Wetlands restoration is an emerging science, and we greatly appreciate the participation of numerous experts who are assisting with the analysis of this, the nation's largest privately funded wetlands enhancement project."

Advisory committee members for this project include representatives from the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, Louisiana University Marine Consortium, Stevens Institute of Technology, Chesapeake Biological Laboratory Center, University of Georgia Marine Institute, National Marine Fisheries Service, U.S. Fish &Wildlife Service, Delaware Estuary Program, State of Delaware and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Biological monitoring data on fish populations in the Delaware are obtained in accordance with a DEP-approved workplan. The biological monitoring data collected by PSEG compliments the long-term and on-going data collected by the State of Delaware and DEP. This data was used in analyzing the permit application. The analyses show the population trends for most species studied are increasing.

ESSA Technnologies, the firm assisting DEP in analyzing portions of the voluminous application, is an international firm with more than 20 years of experience in managing and evaluating environmental and natural resource projects. While this is not the first time DEP has retained an independent consultant to evaluate a New Jersey Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NJPDES) permit, it is the largest NJPDES permit application ever received by the department. ESSA will be paid approximately $300,000 with funds from an assessment added to PSEG's permit fee.

In its 1994 permit, DEP determined that retrofitting the facility with new cooling towers would have involved a complicated and wide-scale construction project entailing substantial costs disproportionate to the environmental benefit. While the Clean Water Act does not call for this type of economic analysis, there was legal precedent for such an analysis, and EPA concurred with DEP in this matter. In providing comments on the present permit application, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in June 2000 agreed it may be prudent to concentrate on measures that fully minimize and mitigate adverse environmental impacts, with the existing plant structure, given the life expectancy of the plant, the costs associated with retro-fitting, and the special conditions and other measures already implemented.

The proposed permit would allow the withdrawal of 3.024 billion gallons of water a day, as a monthly average, to cool the reactors, which represents no change from the existing permit conditions. It should be noted that at no time does the cooling water come into direct contact with the two nuclear reactors.

The permit application is available for public review at the DEP headquarters in Trenton by calling 609-292-4860. The proposed permit will be available for review at the Salem Free Public Library, the Cumberland County Library, the Newark Library and DEP headquarters.

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