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Bethel getting involved in Alliance license transfer

By Dan Hust
KAUNEONGA LAKE — June 1, 2010 — The Town of Bethel plans to join Sullivan County’s motion to intervene in the proposed transfer of local hydroelectric operating licenses from Alliance Energy to a consortium of companies called Eagle Creek.
At its Wednesday meeting, the town board voted unanimously (minus absent member Vicky Vassmer-Simpson) to join the county in the motion, which County Attorney Sam Yasgur has characterized as ensuring the county “has a seat at the table” when the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) makes its determination on the transfer.
When such a decision will be made is unclear, but on July 7, FERC is expected to close the comment/motion to intervene period – evidently thanks to U.S. Congressman Maurice Hinchey’s plea to extend that period beyond its original June 7 closure date.
Alliance, which has yet to comment on the transfer, is apparently seeking to sell its Mongaup system to Eagle Creek, which would include the Toronto Reservoir – which is wholly within the Town of Bethel – and the Swinging Bridge Reservoir, which sits partially within Bethel’s borders.
The Toronto Reservoir has been a continuing source of controversy, from fluctuating water levels to a second public access that has remained inaccessible by land, violating FERC’s two-access mandate.
(FERC spokesperson Celeste Miller said her agency is satisfied Alliance, which is in litigation with a neighboring property owner over this matter, is doing all it can to resolve the issue.)
There is speculation that Alliance will remain as operator of the hydroelectric facilities, as Eagle Creek has no apparent experience with such.
“The town and its residents and visitors rely on the reservoirs’ natural resources, and the town will sustain economic harm if public access at the Toronto Dam area is not granted and surface elevation levels continue to vary outside of acceptable recreational limits,” Supervisor Dan Sturm read from the resolution being sent to FERC by the town. “... Lack of access to the reservoir for recreational purposes is acutely felt by the residents of the town.”
Smallwood resident Bob Barrett, who has been one of the chief advocates for the reopening of the second Toronto access, urged the board to ensure both accesses are open, no matter who has the operating license.
Sturm promised they would try, acknowledging the two mandated accesses.
“It’s nice to see you’re willing to stand up now for the second public access,” remarked MaryAnn Burke, another longtime access proponent. “It’s certainly nice to hear.”
The Town of Thompson is considering a similar motion to intervene, as evidenced by its agenda for the June 1 town board meeting.
Unique future eyed for Smallwood Golf Course
Elsewhere during Wednesday’s Bethel Town Board meeting, the board unanimously agreed to pursue talks with Sullivan County over the county’s new ownership of the old Smallwood Golf Course.
The 111-acre parcel sits off Ballard Road and was recently foreclosed on by the county. At one point, a controversial housing development was proposed there, and Smallwood’s water source is located underneath the land.
Sturm said he and Councilwoman Denise Frangipane have approached the Open Space Institute (OSI) “to explore the possibility of a unique conservation development that would provide a platform for economic development including housing, mixed-use outdoor recreation and open space protection.”
Bethel officials confirmed the county is taking the property off this June’s tax auction.
“We’ve got probably a year or so to look at it with the county and OSI,” said Councilman Bob Blais.
Sturm added that such a partnership “would make for a project that could be a scalable model for the Catskill region . . . a project that Sullivan County could be proud to boast; a project that would provide for our residents and may also attract new families to our area.”
Taking the lead in gas drilling preparations
The board also unanimously agreed on Wednesday to be a co-lead agency with seven other townships involved in the Multi-Municipal Gas Drilling Task Force.
The task force is working on road use agreements and laws to have in place when gas drillers arrive – expected to happen as soon as the state finishes drafting new regulations itself.
Sturm said an environmental assessment form is being prepared by the task force, to be followed by a draft generic environmental impact statement.
The involved towns are Bethel, Callicoon, Cochecton, Delaware, Highland, Lumberland, Rockland and Tusten, who expect either drilling or related activities within their borders.

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