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If those plans are carried out, however, the project also could have an effect on recreational boating on the river above the dam and endanger aquatic species, local officials said.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has accepted a preliminary application from American River Power of Collingswood, N.J., to conduct feasibility studies of the Ellis Dam area in Muskingum County and the Luke Chute area in Morgan and Washington counties.
Dave Mathew, current president of Dresden Village Council, said he was concerned with this current proposal and another offered previously by Free Flow Power, of Gloucester, Ma.
"If they are going to divert water, that could drop the water level in the upper pool (north of the dam) of the river, and that could impact boating," said Mathew, an avid boater.
He also said the outflow of water from the diversion canal could make boating just south of the dam difficult because of the change in current.
Free Flow Power announced plans in 2009 to study nine low-head dams and canals on the Muskingum River for the possibility of installing hydroelectric turbines, including at Ellis and Luke.
Pending the results of the study, that company could begin the formal permitting process with FERC sometime in 2012.
Public meetings were conducted earlier this year in Zanesville, McConnelsville and Beverly to gauge public reaction to the proposal.
Jon Guidroz, director of project development with Free Flow Power, previously said local comments would be considered as plans for the hydro projects are refined during the next year. Further environmental studies also will be conducted.
He said it could take three to five years to receive final federal approval for the project.
As for American River Power's proposal, the company has three years to determine whether to go forward.
American River Power is looking to spend up to $500,000 on the feasibility study of constructing a new power canal on the east side of the Muskingum across from Ellis.
The diverted water then would be used to power four generation turbines, and the generated electric would be channeled to local utility lines nearby by a new transmission line.
The facility is forecasted to generate 9.7 gigawatt-hours of energy annually, according to the permit application filed in August.
A phone message was left and email sent to John Henry, president/manager of American River Power, but Henry had not responded.
Marilyn Ortt, president of the Marietta-based Friends of the Lower Muskingum River, said members are concerned with increased sedimentation resulting from a change in the river flow if projects such as those proposed move forward.
"The sedimentation could bother the mussel beds that are really special to the Muskingum River and endanger other forms of aquatic life," Ortt said. "If a project like this is done, we want to make sure that is protected."
Ortt admitted she just learned of American River Power's proposal but also is worried how diverting large amounts of water for power generation could affect the surrounding areas.
"Think about all of the water that is needed for the shale gas development, and if they are using all of that water for six months a year for the power, that's a real problem," she said.
If Luke Chute also is to be studied by American River Power, Ortt said the group likely will stand up for that area again, because the FLMR has acquired through state funds and a conservation easement more than 60 acres of property in the area.