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ECOsponsible applies for Benson Mines dam permit

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NEWTON FALLS — An East Aurora company has applied to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for a preliminary permit for a hydro project at Benson Mines Little River Dam.

“It’s all conjecture right now,” said Dennis J. Ryan, ECOsponsible Inc. project manager. “The application provides us with the opportunity to study it.”

If feasible, the project would upgrade a flood control dam built for Benson Mines in the middle of the last century into an electricity-generating run-of-the-river hydropower plant. The single turbine proposed could produce 7,446 MWh annually — enough to meet the electrical needs of approximately 1,000 households, according to the application.

The project could provide 25 to 30 short-term construction jobs as well as some permanent employment, Mr. Ryan said.

The hydro plant would help generate revenue for Mr. Ryan’s other goal, which is to establish a small summer camp for children with special needs that would be operated by his wife, an occupational therapist.

“The idea ultimately is for the camp,” he said. “At the outset, it’s a renewable energy project.”

Mr. Ryan said he is in negotiations for the purchase of the dam and its surrounding 3,190 acres with owner A&Z of Maitland Family Limited Partnership, Maitland, Fla.

Clifton Supervisor Robert L. Snider said he was unaware of the application, but welcomed the concept.

“If it adds to the tax base, I think it’s a great idea,” he said. “I don’t think most people would even know it was there.”

The dam is about a quarter of a mile off Route 3. It was built to control water upstream so that the Benson iron ore mine, which no longer operates, would not flood. It has a lake area of 215 acres.

“There’s quite a nice body of water back there,” Mr. Snider said.

ECOsponsible is proposing to build a 16-by-16-foot modular building as an on-shore fenced station about 400 feet from the shore that would be accessible from an existing road. A National Grid 15kV utility line is near the station site.

The cost for completing the feasibility studies is estimated at no more than $250,000. Remaining costs were estimated at $550,000.

The dam was inspected by the state Department of Environmental Conservation in 2010 and found to have no major deficiencies, according to the application.

The project will have a minimal adverse impact on fish species, according to the application.

“Over the long-term, the project will displace some of the state’s older, less efficient and dirtier sources of power and, at a minimum, will stave off the need to build new fossil fuel plants,” the application said. “Additionally, this system generates power from natural river currents and therefore is not dependent on fossil fuels. This form of energy production is emission-free with no adverse effects on air quality and minimal foreseeable adverse environmental effects overall.”

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