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Azure Power given deadline for dam repair

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The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is giving one year for the Azure Mountain Power Company to repair the St. Regis dam, despite lack of funds.

Owner Everett Smith is turning toward the Adirondack North Country Association (ANCA) for help with funding for the dam, located on the St. Regis Falls river in Waverly.

The dam provides electricity based on the flow of the river.

The FERC determined the length of time for the company to repair or reconstruct the dam after a compromise.

“Originally they (FERC) said the flashboards had to be lowered ... But we protested against that,” said owner of the company Everett Smith. “That’s how people upstream get their water and it would damage the wet land habitats.”

Flashboards are used to raise the water surface of a dam. Had they lowered the flashboards on the dam, the water depth would have decreased four to five feet, according to Smith.

“Now instead of doing that, we have to repair or replace the dam this year,” he said.

The stability of the dam is fair for the season, but something has to be done, according to Smith.

Smith said he has been trying for the past three years to receive funding.

“I just never made an official proposal,” he said.

Foley said the issue for funding did not become urgent until a few months ago.

There are three options are for the dam, according to a letter Waverly Supervisor Michael Bailey sent to State Senator Betty Little, R-45th District, Oct. 31, 2012.

The first option would cost in the neighborhood of $1 million and would create a concrete dam instead of a timber dam. Option two would cost $500,000, and would replace the timber crib dam. Option three would cost $100,000, and would replace the cribs of the existing dam.

“We need to replace what’s not going to last ... And right now everything in that town is going to last for 100 more years but that dam,” Foley said.

Repairs or replacement of the dam would be easier to achieve if Azure Mountain Power was making more for a profit, according to Foley.

“The rate we get paid is the lowest it has been in the past 30 years ... We get paid three cents a kilowatt,” he said.

Smith, co-owner Matt Foley and Bailey spoke with Sustainable Communities Practice Leader for Ecology and Environmental, Inc. Rebecca Flora at a presentation in the Wild Center in Tupper Lake on Wednesday.

The presentation was provided by the Adirondack North Country Association (ANCA) and business partner Ecology and Environmental, Inc. on the importance of sustainability.

Before funding options would be considered for the dam, the project must first be submitted on the ANCA’s website by filling out an eight-page form.

Smith said he will send in the form this week.

“And even then we do not decide who has top priority,” Flora said.

The state determines which projects are funded first, according to Flora.

“The Consolidated Funding Application, or the CFA, is what the state uses to determine who gets funding and when,” she said. “We create this list so that we can have a general idea of what projects need to be done in the North Country area.”

To receive funding from the state, the projects have to follow the criteria to meet the sustainability goal.

“I think it would [receive funding]. It’s hydro and it provides local energy,” Flora said.

According to Bailey, the dam is good for tourism, such as fishing, has a series of campsites along the pond and creates a wetland habitat.

The river is not only an area for over 200 homes to use as a recreational service, but it also provides some residents with water supply, according to Bailey’s letter.

Azure Mountain Power is an important tax-paying element of the community, Bailey added.

However, it is too small to participate in the larger commercial market because it does not produce over two megawatts, according to Smith. Therefore, it must sell to National Grid.

“We sell it to them at three cents per kilowatt and they turn around and sell it to St. Regis Falls for 12 cents per kilowatt/hour,” he said.

Smith said the power the company produces sometimes goes as far as Santa Clara and Dickinson, but they do not produce all the power those towns need.

“You can’t really tell where the electrons go in the grid ... They go where needed,” Smith said.

According to Foley, the rates for customers would stay the same whether National Grid provided the electricity on its own or through Azure Mountain Power Company.

Smith said the decreased rate is due to the low cost of natural gas.

“If we were making 10 cents per kilowatt, we’d be able to make those repairs,” Smith said.

He hopes that the dam will receive a grant.

“It may be a step by step process ... that would stretch out over a time line,” Smith said. “We have to see what becomes available, we have to convince them that this is a good thing.”

If available funding is not in the cards, Bailey said the town will consider taking over the project.

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