As a 10-member panel representing local, state and federal entities fielded questions Tuesday from a crowded city ballroom, it was the director of a federal regulatory agency who found himself in the hot seat as questions turned to matters of adequate easements.
Joe Morgan, Director of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's Hydropower Administration and Compliance Division, was publicly criticized after he advised Miami residents that FERC's regulatory oversight of the Grand River Dam Authority is limited to the authority's operation within its electrical generation pool - and there, GRDA is not lacking in flowage easements.
“We are in the business of licensing the generation of electricity, Morgan said as he was questioned directly by Miami Mayor Brent Brassfield. “It is our understanding that, within the area of our jurisdiction - the power pool - that GRDA has all the (easements) in that area.
According to Morgan, the commission's authority becomes subjugated by the Flood Control Act, once operations move into the flood pool.
Morgan announced that he had learned that day of GRDA's efforts to acquire additional land and that he was excited to know that someone was “stepping up to resolve the flooding problem in Miami.
Additionally, Morgan asked the Miami residents to be patient and allow the collective panel to find a solution.
“When you don't tell the truth, you are lying, Jack Dalrymple, a Miami resident and flood victim, said in a post-meeting interview. “Joe Morgan lied to us today and the proof is right here in these documents.
Dalrymple referred to a 1994 court filing in which FERC argued against being named as a third-party defendant in a class-action flooding lawsuit brought by Dalrymple and more than 100 property owners who fought GRDA for more than a decade.
According to documents filed with the U.S. District Court, FERC stated that the language of GRDA's license is “clear and “the license covered the entire project, not just the hydroelectric activities.
The license, granted to GRDA by FERC, indicates that the Grand River Dam Authority is to “acquire title in fee of the right to use in perpetuity all lands, other than lands of the United States, necessary or appropriate for the construction, maintenance and operation of the project.
Congressman Dan Boren, who remained in Washington, D.C., Tuesday but made himself available to the media, said he would be evaluating Morgan's comments closely and reviewing the documents that put the director's comments in question.
In a post-meeting interview, GRDA chief executive officer Kevin Easley said that the authority's effort to seek land acquisitions is for a wildlife refuge - but, it is being made in an effort to try and find a solution to alleviate flooding in Miami.
Easley reiterated that the authority has always felt that it has acquired the necessary easements for the portion of the dam that it controls.
“However, there clearly is a problem with the upper portion and somebody has to step up and we are at this point of stepping up, Easley said.
Miami City Manager Michael Spurgeon said he felt no closer to having obtained answers after the two-hour meeting that drew an estimated 400 residents to city hall.
Spurgeon expressed his appreciation to Boren for organizing the meeting, to the panel members who participated and the residents who took interest.
The city administrator, however, said he remains skeptical of what may happen long-term, saying that the meeting ended without a clear answer to the questions regarding adequate flowage easements and who, if not FERC, will enforce the mandates of GRDA's license.