Oregon Councilwoman Sandy Bihn, who is also Western Lake Erie Waterkeeper, said winter activities on Maumee Bay once enjoyed by residents are now returning, thanks to cooler temperatures and less heated water being discharged from FirstEnergy’s power plant on Bay Shore Road.
“Most of the Oregon shoreline along Maumee Bay is freezing - at least for now. What a treat,” said Bihn. “We may be able to once again skate, ice fish, etc.”
When Bihn’s family moved to their current home on Bay Shore Road in 1987, the ice on the bay was thick.
“We were able to go out on the ice and walk along the shoreline on ice. It was great,” she said. “But all of a sudden, we couldn’t do it anymore.”
Bihn said in the 1990s, Maumee Bay stopped freezing over.
“I called many people and asked why and was told any number of supposed reasons, but no one mentioned the Bay Shore power plant,” said Bihn.
The plant, located on the south shore of Lake Erie, near the confluence of the Maumee River and Maumee Bay in Oregon, had added another unit and increased the amount of water it used by about 200 million gallons a day. Many power plants use water for cooling. The water that is discharged from the Bay Shore plant, often referred to as a “thermal plume,” is about 10 degrees warmer than the water taken in, according to Bihn.
“For nearly 20 years, I watched the so called 'thermal plume' keep the waters from freezing, from the plant to Maumee Bay State Park - over two miles in distance. Going out on the ice was unsafe,” said Bihn.
The Bay Shore plant, which at one time used up to 750 million gallons of water per day, has closed three of its four units, due to FirstEnergy’s announcement earlier this year that it would close several power plants because of air emission standards imposed by the Environmental Protection Agency. As a result, the Bay Shore plant has reduced its daily water usage by over 500 million gallons a day, said Bihn. And that, she believes, has allowed the bay to freeze over once again.
“About 500 million gallons of water less per day are being used in 2013 than in 1987,” said Bihn. Less water use also means less fish kills, she added, “over hundreds of millions less.” Bihn is referring to the plant’s cooling water intake system, which, according to studies, has killed millions of fish, fish larvae and eggs. It has long been a controversial topic to environmentalists because the fish, according to Bihn, come from the warmest, shallowest, and most biologically productive waters of the Great Lakes.
The Ohio EPA for years reviewed options for the Bay Shore power plant to reduce the fish kills. The plant agreed in 2010 to install devices called “reverse louvers” to address the problem, though Bihn believed that the installation of the more expensive cooling towers would have been more effective.
A new power plant, which will break ground in Oregon in May on 30 acres of land just south of the BP Husky Refinery, between Wynn and Lallendorf roads, will help fill the gap being left by the phase out of the coal fired Bay Shore power plant. But the new gas fired plant, which will convert natural gas to electricity, is not expected to have the same impact that the Bay Shore plant had on fish, said Bihn, because it will use less water.
Bihn plans to take a walk on the frozen bay soon, she said.
“We should be able to enjoy a frozen Oregon Maumee Bay shore line this winter - if it is cold enough,” she said.
She warned the public to check the ice and make sure it’s frozen solid before walking on it.
“If you want to venture out on the ice, please be careful that the ice is thick enough and safe. Hopefully there will be 'safe ice' allowing ice fishing and ice skating once more at Oregon on the bay,” she said.