Penobscot River Science Steering Committee
November 7, 2006, 1-3pm
Senator George J. Mitchell Center Conference Room, UMaine
Present: Calhoun, Clarke, Courtemanch, Dressler, Hart, Huntington, Kelley, Kusnierz, Loftin, Wilson, Willis, J. Zydlewski, Vaux
Via phone: Apse, Barnhardt, Casper, Hutchins, Royte, Snyder, Wildman
1. Permitting update
George Aponte Clarke gave an overview of permitting procedures, using the FERC applications for Fort Halifax, Edwards, and Sandy River and DEP guidance (MWDCA) as a baseline. The Trust will be interviewing candidate firms to select a contractor to help with permitting. They are looking for someone with project management experience, including with FERC, and experience working in the state of Maine. This person will help them scope out what they will need in terms of permitting and identify a timeline. At that point, they will be able to identify areas for researchers to participate. The Trust will meet with regulatory agencies once contractor is hired, that is the first step. No date yet, but will be ASAP/priority once contractor is hired. Hydroterra's bathymetry and sediment report is on the Web in draft form. There is still a piece of fieldwork that needs to be completed; water levels have been making it hard to get measurements of the tailrace at the Howland dam site.
Related to this is an infrastructure and natural features inventory (outfalls, bridge abutments, wetlands, etc.) of the impoundments by Woodlot Alternatives. The Trust needs to sit down with Woodlot and go over the results before they can release it. But it is a priority, and when it is ready they will be sure to get it to Schmitt for posting on the Web.
There was also discussion about whether or not the project will require an EIS under NEPA. Again, the Edwards application can provide guidance for this. Schmitt will place relevant links and documents on the Web.
There was a brief discussion of problems with file formats and how permitting data should be shared. We need HTML or PDF for Web viewing and a shapefile/spatial file instead of CAD files, etc. It was agreed that sharing information in available formats should be written directly into RFPs. The person who generates the data should be responsible for producing various formats.
2. Revisiting committee roles and responsibilities
Hart led a discussion of concerns about the potential for conflicts of interest in the roles and responsibilities of committee members. It's possible that over the course of this project, people will be thinking about broad goals and a framework for this process, about how to get funding, whether agency or external or unanticipated. Are we going to issue RFPs for work to be done or will it be a more informal process? People who are involved in this process are also the technical experts who may respond to RFPs. It is undesirable and unrealistic that those who want to do work can't be involved in committee/process. The best we can do is be aware of potential conflicts and promote transparency. One suggestion is to create a subcommittee that will stand aside from the most direct benefits of funding for work, to include members of the Trust, Hart as the University representative since he does not anticipate doing research, and representatives from state and federal agencies. We probably need to revisit the charter that clarifies broader range of roles that includes both oversight and participation. The Elwha group is coping with this right now (bylaws, etc.).
The subcommittee idea was supported as a reasonable approach, as long as everyone is clear which roles they are playing. This led to a question about the purpose and existence of the committee after the monitoring plan is drafted, which was discussed within the framework of the TNC-NOAA proposal as an example of how the committee can function.
3. Funding opportunities
Apse reviewed the TNC-NOAA proposal process: TNC Maine Chapter submits the proposal, drawing on advice from the steering committee and draft plan, of what key work needs to be done. The committee acts as an advisor to TNC, which is a Trust member. But as a member, TNC is very concerned with being able to demonstrate success of this project, and would get private funding for that aspect to distribute on its own or with the Trust or some other joint way with GMC, the Trust, and agency scientists. There are multiple models. Hart's suggestion to have a subcommittee accomplishes this. In the past, TNC brought in researchers to do the proposal, and so those people got to do the work. In this case, doesn't have to be that way. In previous dam removal cases, TNC sole sourced with researchers to develop proposals and do the work.
The monitoring plan currently being drafted is a guidance proposal, and TNC could then create an RFP from the monitoring plan and the plan could be used to identify priorities for future funding. Funding for monitoring and research would have to go through the Trust or some other entity besides the committee; a subgroup of committee members who are not interested in research could help direct the funds. If TNC identifies researchers that want to directly participate in writing a grant, they can also pursue that angle.
Once the monitoring plan is drafted, the committee's role could be to ensure communication among researchers, host science meetings three times a year, etc. to prevent duplication of effort and the chance we might miss the big picture, which was the original goal of the committee, to prevent the perception that the Trust is directing science. This committee should take a leadership role in making sure that monitoring and science efforts, esp. those above and beyond permitting, are exemplary.
One way to fund the future of the committee is through the NSF's Research Coordination Networks, which is the program that funded the Elwha Consortium. It is $300,000 for five years, which is basically funding for a full-time coordinator and not really research funding. The proposal is due in June.
In other funding news, the Trust has submitted a proposal to EPA for the Targeted Watersheds Initiative, which includes a seed grant program for researchers. Deadline is Nov. 15, not sure when they find out. It provides funds for up to 5 years.
4. Draft monitoring plan - next steps
The plan is not integrated in terms of connections and ecosystem perspectives. Some people have offered to help with this, as the plan gets developed and when it is complete as we think it can be, people can decide how to synthesize it. Regarding the barrier removal monitoring workshop outcomes, TNC and NOAA are in the loop and there is no new information available. Draft documents are on the committee's Web site.
Plan subcommittees are to submit pieces by November 30. Schmitt will recirculate and ask for comments. KW has volunteered to help with rewriting and synthesis. Once the plan is finalized in December, TNC will ask for specific proposals (really just two page conceptual plans) via RFP in January after working with the Trust's internal science team. TNC does not submit to NOAA until March.
We will schedule the next meeting by email, for sometime in mid to late January. Perhaps invite someone from the Corps, or Dana Murch to next meeting.
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Meeting Summary by C. Schmitt