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Lopez wants NYPA hydro plant to be ready for next flood

March 24, 2017 05:52 PM

The New York Power Authority's Blenheim-Gilboa hydroelectric plant is up for relicensing, and Schoharie County residents want to use the chance to make the area safer from potentially devastating floods.
     
In 2011, Hurricane Irene brought over a foot of rain to the Schoharie Valley. The Gilboa dam almost failed. Trailers were flattened, churches were destroyed, and roads were all but wiped away. It was devastating, but assemblyman Pete Lopez says it was on the brink of being even worse.

"If both the dams had broken and we had been doing analysis of this prior to this event. The (Schoharie County) building that we're in right now, the third floor, would be underwater," said Assem. Lopez, R-Schoharie.

Eight feet of water was flowing over the Gilboa dam upstream on the Schoharie Creek. Crews declared that failure was imminent. Sirens sounded.

But the structures ultimately didn't fail.

Residents took years to clean up. In 2014, crews finished improvements at the New York City owned dam and reservoir in Gilboa to prepare for another big storm.

Lopez and residents want more flood-reducing changes from the NYPA hydroelectric plant downstream of the dam.

"We need to make sure your facility can do two things: Generate power, and to the maximum extent feasible, help protect life and property down stream," said Lopez at a press conference Friday.

Lopez wrote The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, FERC, saying NYPA needs an acceptable flood reduction plan before it grants the plant a 50-year license. In the letter, Lopez writes "...NYPA is seeking to downplay the significance of flooding and prevent this conversation from being conducted within the scope of the FERC relicensing process."

In a letter to NYPA, Lopez asks the authority to provide methodology and to establish a "Pump Up" protocol.

Local group Dam Concerned Citizens Inc. is pushing for an armored spillway.

"What we're concerned with, is that the plant was designed in the 1960s when there was a lower or lesser amount of precipitation," said Howard Bartholomew, Dam president.

The superintendent of Middleburgh Central wants clear procedures and plans for another flood situation.

"I want it in writing, what do we do, how do we operate together when these types of events occur," said Michele Weaver, superintendent.

FERC will have the final say on the relicensing.

See Lopez's correspondences here.

NYPA has completed a comprehensive flood study. It sent us the following statement:

“We, at NYPA, as community members who live and work in Schoharie County, continue to work collaboratively with our local, state, and federal partners to ensure that our ability to operate the Blenheim-Gilboa Power Project is maintained and that public safety is a top priority, including in the cases of high-water and other weather-related events.”

Additional Background:

·    High water and other weather related event preparation is very important to NYPA and is a regular part of operational planning at NYPA’s Blenheim-Gilboa Pumped Storage Power Project in Schoharie County.

·    As part of the license renewal process for the B-G power plant to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), high water and other natural weather event planning and protocols, already in place at the B-G plant, will be reviewed.

·    Since February 2014, there have been 24 meetings with local stakeholders as part of the relicensing process for New York Power Authority’s Blenheim-Gilboa Power Project. The Power Authority also has met individually with elected representatives and local stakeholder groups on different aspects of the relicensing process.

·    On March 2, 2017, NYPA held a public meeting and discussed a comprehensive flood study that looked at the potential effect of the Blenheim-Gilboa Plant’s operations on downstream flooding and provided potential operational measures that could help reduce potential impacts from such flooding. An independent consultant conducted the study taking stakeholder’s concerns into account. Study goals were approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). The flood study is viewable on-line here: (http://www.bg.nypa.gov/Pages/Document.aspx). The public comment period is open until April 19, 2017.  All concerned stakeholders are encouraged to review the study and file a comment here: http://www.bg.nypa.gov/Pages/Contacts.aspx.

o    Study Conclusions:
Existing operations provide benefits to downstream communities by:
o    Delaying high flows, which allows more time for warning and evacuation;
o    Reducing peak flow (lower water depths downstream of the dam)
o    Alternative Operations might have potential to increase the magnitude of these benefits by utilizing more of the available storage (free-board) at exactly the right time. However, vast improvements to meteorological forecasts and real-time information would be required. 

·    Whether formally, through FERC’s participatory Relicensing process, or informally, the Power Authority is always interested in hearing from stakeholders on issues of concern to the community. To send a comment or concern to NYPA, visit http://www.bg.nypa.gov/Pages/Contacts.aspx. For more information about the Blenheim-Gilboa Pumped Storage Power Project visit: www.bg.nypa.gov.
 

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Asa Stackel

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