Con Ed employees win industry award for East River fish protection project

Workers install equipment in the East River that reduces the plant’s impact on the  marine life. (Photo courtesy of Con Ed.)

Workers install equipment in the East River that reduces the plant’s impact on the marine life. (Photo courtesy of Con Ed)

By Sabina Mollot

Two Con Ed employees have been recognized for developing a system that protects the fish in the East River from the utility’s steam and electric plant operations.

Gary Thorn, a section manager in Central Engineering, and Brian Brush, senior scientist in Environmental Health and Safety, were the winners of an industry award called the Technology Transfer Award from the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI).

The pair led a $36 million project to design a system of five screens with fine mesh panels to filter fish, eggs and larvae from the water cooling intake at the East River generating station off East 14th Street. Additionally, while the work had initially been expected to be completed by the end of 2014, it wound up being done over a year ahead of schedule, by the end of 2013. The project started in 2006 with testing and site evaluation and review of technologies.

“A lot of the early work consisted of collection of data like how many fish there were,” said Brush. “It was a good deal of fish, but it’s importance to distinguish that when we say fish the technology also protects eggs and larvae and they’re more abundant than actual fish.”

The screens, along with a fish-return system, reduce the plant’s impact on the river. The fish-return system uses a low-pressure spray to gently remove any aquatic organisms trapped on the screens and return them to the river.

The marine life in the river includes species such as the Atlantic croaker, Atlantic tomcod, cunner and bay anchovy.

Brush noted that while the team had “a pretty good idea of anticipated aquatic life we’d encounter,” the East River nonetheless proved to be a challenge to work in.

“The East River’s harsh,” he said. “There’s a saline environment and it has such strong currents. That was the biggest challenge.”

Feb26 Con Ed Thorn BrushHe and Thorn didn’t personally go diving into the river although others involved in the project did. The technology was placed 40-50 feet below the water line. The work was done to comply with the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s regulations.

However, Allan Drury, a spokesperson for Con Ed, said the company was “only too happy to do that because we do a lot of environmental work, anyway.”

In 2014, Con Ed was named by Newsweek as the greenest utility in the United States.

EPRI is a national energy research industry organization that seeks to make the delivery of electricity safe, reliable and efficient.

Thorn is a member of the Fish Protection Committee with EPRI and noted, “They’ve been supporting us on an international level.”

Brush and Thorn received their awards at a ceremony in Charleston, S.C. Thorn is a resident of Highland, N.Y., while Brush lives in Newtown, Pennsylvania.

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