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Work at Gouverneur hydro plant stalls

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GOUVERNEUR — Increasing capacity at the village hydroelectric plant is stalled until licensing issues are resolved with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the state Department of Environmental Conservation have requested that FERC investigate whether work proposed at the hydroelectric project on the Oswegatchie River was subject to its jurisdiction.

FERC issued an exemption from licensing for the project April 15, 1983, but revoked it Dec. 9, 1987, after the village chose not to pursue construction when bids came in higher than expected.

Over the last few years, the village has spent $695,000 for work on the plant under emergency measures.

The overhaul began when two blades on one of the turbines broke and dropped into the river.

With both turbines working, the plant recently has been able to power streetlights, the municipal building and the water plant and sell some power back to National Grid.

On Sept. 2, the village submitted a joint application to DEC and the Army Corps of Engineers for additional work at the plant, including improvements that could increase the total project capacity from 200 kilowatts to 440 kilowatts.

The work permitted by FERC under the 1983 exemption would have increased the capacity to 460 kilowatts. The additional electricity would at least partially power the sewage treatment plant.

“That’s the goal,” said Trustee Charles W. Newvine during an update on the project at the village Board of Trustees meeting Tuesday. “It uses an ungodly amount of electricity.”

Other work also needs to be done, including stoplogs or a gate to stop water from coming in so maintenance can be done and repairs to the substructure wall.

The plant may be old enough that it does not have to meet full requirements but will need the go-ahead from FERC if it wants to increase capacity, said village attorney Henry J. Leader.

The plant was built in 1926 and began operating in 1927. It was connected to the power grid in 1951.

In 2009, FERC looked at the jurisdictional status but did not make a determination.

According to a May 2 letter from FERC, the village is required to obtain a license or exemption before any construction of additional capacity can begin.

The request to FERC comes at a time when a number of hydroelectric plants extending more than 100 miles on the river are involved in relicensing. Many already have had to improve safeguards for fish.

“There are currently 20 active hydroelectric developments on the Oswegatchie River. Of the remaining 19 developments other than Gouverneur, eight are currently undergoing relicensing with expiration dates in 2012 and four were relicensed in the last decade,” David A. Stilwell, Fish and Wildlife Service field supervisor, wrote to FERC. “Each project has been, or likely will be, relicensed with some form of fish protection and downstream passage. The Gouverneur project, which is located in the middle of the previously discussed 12 developments and is just upstream of the Natural Dam project, lacks both fish protection and a downstream passage facility and has no operational restrictions.”

Requiring it to have such measures would improve fish and wildlife habitat in the river and make Gouverneur comply with what is expected of other licensees on the river, Mr. Stilwell wrote.

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