By Nathan Mayberg
FORESTBURGH August 1, 2006 For the fourth time in little more than a year, officials from Mirant and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) met with local citizens and politicians at the Forestburgh Firehouse on Thursday in the most upbeat meeting since a sinkhole was discovered in 2005 at Mirants Swinging Bridge Reservoir dam.
The meeting, once again organized by New York State Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther (who was in attendance), let the public know that FERC has approved Mirants final remediation plan for its dam and that its entire holdings in local reservoirs are up for sale.
The news was so good that S. Linn Williams, Mirant NY-Gens Chief Executive Officer, was greeted with applause before and after he spoke to the crowd of more than 100.
Williams said the proof that the companys work has been successful thus far could be seen in the recent flooding from harsh storms, which did not damage the companys dam. Williams hopes the dam can be completely repaired and the reservoir completely refilled by February.
The final remediation plan, approved in June, will allow Mirant to complete the most important and complex repairs of the dam. Constantine Tjoumas, the Director of the Division of Dam Safety Inspections for FERC, labeled the impending repairs as the most critical stages.
Williams told the crowd that the hydrological study to determine the safety of residents downstream was completed, and no threat has been determined to those residents.
The next steps will involve excavation of the dam, the placing of a filter into the dam, and grouting at the bottom of the dam until the dam is determined to be safe to handle refilling of the reservoir. Williams expects the refilling process to begin by November in order to raise the water level back to approximately 1,070 feet.
Meanwhile, the company is soliciting bid offers for all of its holdings which also include the Mongaup and Rio reservoirs, as well as Lake Toronto and Cliff Lake. According to Williams, all the offers have been from power companies. They will be required to abide by any pre-existing agreement with FERC. If they were to purchase the properties and then surrender the FERC license, it would have to go through a public process in which FERC would have to review the application, along with the publics input. Williams estimated that the properties could be unloaded by the end of the year.
Nearly everybody in the crowd seemed to be happy with the answers. Pat Blenk of North Carolina has been visiting Swinging Bridge Lake for 40 years. Her father built a house on the lake in 1959 by working extra jobs. Her family has been spending their summers there ever since. Her sister, Susan Spahr, now lives there all year.
It was much better than the meeting in the winter, said Blenk, referring to the meeting in which Mirant indicated it may just simply walk away from its FERC license.
She said she came away with a very positive feeling.
Town of Forestburgh Supervisor Jim Galligan also said he was satisfied with what he heard.
Louis Friscoe, Manager of Mirants External Affairs, said that receiving approvals from FERC for the remediation was the biggest hurdle.
Chris White, a representative for United States Congressman Maurice Hinchey, credited FERC for really stepping up to the plate. He and Gunther both labeled the meeting as having a clear, positive outcome.