By Nathan Mayberg
FORESTBURGH November 22, 2005 Residents who live near the Swinging Bridge Reservoir Dam, which suffered a serious sinkhole last May, appear to believe in Mirant, the hydro-electric company which operates the dam.
But they and others who use the lake for recreation or business may have to wait another year before Mirant can complete repairs and refill the virtually nonexistent reservoir.
Though they complained about wells running dry and the lake sitting low, the Swinging Bridge Homeowners Association thanked the company for their upfront attitude in dealing with the dam.
One of the homeowners said between 10-20 wells have gone dry. And the low level of the water turning Sullivan Countys largest public boating lake into a creek shut down all boating there this past summer, crippling local businesses that rely on the lake, such as Starlite Marina.
Elliot Neri, the Plant Manager for Mirant New York, said the scale of the job on the dam has tripled since a sinkhole 30 feet wide and 6 feet deep was discovered more than six months ago. He estimated that Swinging Bridge Lake was at one-third of its normal water level.
He continued to reiterate that the failure of the dam could lead to a disaster to the safety of residents who live downstream, particularly towards Port Jervis.
The corporation must also deal with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, which has notified them of its concern for getting the water flowing more in order to protect the trout.
Neri said the company spent hours one recent day trying to figure out solutions. Neri said the company expects to continue drilling at the dam into next summer to ensure its safety.
The sinkhole was caused by several leaks in the penstock (a large pipe) and the diversion tunnel. Adam Jones, the engineer for Mirant, said they have drilled between 600 and 900 holes in the penstock since in order to get to the bottom of the problem.
The 700-foot-long tunnel which runs underneath the dam is putting stress on the penstock and has caused it to stretch, he said. The floods of April likely triggered the current problem.
Along with Swinging Bridge, the Texas-based company controls the nearby Toronto, Mongaup Falls and Rio reservoirs. Neri said the other reservoirs are at or near normal capacity. He denied that fish have been negatively affected at any of the reservoirs or their tributaries as a result of the company dropping levels at Swinging Bridge.
The company will be working throughout the winter to fix the dam, which is abnormal, said a representative of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission who was at the meeting.
New York State Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther, who organized the first meeting between residents and Mirant six months ago, was also present.