Dan Hust | Democrat
THE VIEW OF the Toronto Reservoir south of White Lake is from the boat launch of Moscoe Road a spot that currently offers just foot access, thanks to below normal water levels that have stirred controversy.
Toronto Reservoir debate features a variety of voices
By Dan Hust
WHITE LAKE While every involved party agrees that the Toronto Reservoir is a valuable recreational resource, there are more than two sides to the debate over whether or not owner/operator Alliance Energy can and should draw down the reservoir’s water level, as it did this past winter.
The reservoir is around 1,190 feet above sea level currently, now rising but about 30 feet beneath what residents and Alliance deem “normal.”
The Moscoe Road boat access is anything but, thanks to the exposed lakebed, and the Toronto Dam access continues to be unavailable due to a dispute between Alliance and property owner Steve Dubrovsky.
For a general overview of the situation, see this past Tuesday’s Democrat. Here’s how the various involved parties look at the issue:
In a letter to Town of Bethel Supervisor Dan Sturm dated February 10, Alliance’s vice president of operations and new development, Joseph Klimaszewski Jr., said Toronto’s role in Alliance’s Mongaup River hydroelectric operations is to promote safety, mitigate flooding and provide water flows necessary not only to run its Swinging Bridge power plant but to ensure whitewater recreational opportunities and the flow needs of the Delaware River, into which the Mongaup empties.
The Toronto Creek was dammed in 1927 expressly to generate electricity, he pointed out, and “the concept of operating the Toronto Reservoir to increase the tax base of the town or the property values for any individual development project is not lawful and would not be in the interest of all the public.”
A 2001 Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) decision, he wrote, denied the township’s petition to maintain higher water levels at Toronto simply to preserve property values and the associated tax assessments.
Nevertheless, from Memorial Day to Labor Day of last year, Alliance kept the water height “higher than normal,” he said, to provide recreational access made “possible due to favorable environmental conditions throughout the Mongaup Basin.”
The drawdown this winter, he said in an e-mail to the Democrat, was to “facilitate downstream uses and to allow for necessary maintenance on the structures associated with the reservoir.”
“Moreover,” he added, “our operating practices are consistent with those which have been in place for more than 80 years and for which the reservoir was designed. There are times when it is necessary for us to perform maintenance activities on these projects to ensure the safety of the public and the continued successful operation of the projects. We make every effort to schedule maintenance that may require reductions in water levels to occur during the non-recreational season to minimize the impact on the community.”
Klimaszewski pointed out in his letter to Sturm that the FERC operating license, issued in 1992, noted reservoir levels had been drawn down to as low as 1,170 feet above sea level in the past.
He denied that the matter has anything to do with Alliance’s current tax certiorari litigation with the townships of Bethel, Thompson and Forestburgh (along with the county and the Monticello School District), though he did propose a “modest, staged reduction of assessed values on our properties over time,” similar to an agreement Alliance recently struck with the Town of Lumberland.
(County Treasurer Ira Cohen said this week that 2008 taxes remain unpaid by Alliance with all of the above-mentioned municipalities, including Lumberland. Data on 2009 is not yet available, but Alliance’s 2007 bills are paid.)
Finally, Klimaszewski wrote that “it would seem contrary on the one hand for the town to advocate for increased reservoir elevations to promote recreation while on the other hand it dedicates the only public road used to access a portion of the reservoir for private use” referencing last year’s handover of Town Road 62 to Dubrovsky’s Woodstone Companies, rendering the Toronto Dam public access inaccessible via land.
In an email responding to questions from the Democrat, Klimaszewski added that no Town of Bethel official “in a responsible position” has yet to contact him about the controversy at Toronto Reservoir, despite his entreaties. Alliance wasn’t even CC’d on the township’s official letter Supervisor Sturm sent to the state in Jan.
Noting that historical records indicate even greater drawdowns than Alliance engaged in this past winter, he said, “The Toronto Reservoir is in the process of refilling, and has been since the beginning of January. Levels in the reservoir have risen approximately 12 feet so far this year. Based on the historical hydrology of the reservoir, it will refill each spring given normal climatic patterns.”
Asked if the situation is upsetting or understandable to Alliance, he remarked, “It seems that this issue is indicative of the fact that the people involved simply do not understand the facts of the circumstances involved. And we cannot get ‘upset’ due to ignorance. We simply need to provide the facts of the matter and help people to understand the truth of how these reservoirs need to be managed. We appreciate the involvement of government officials in the matter, and we are hopeful that they will be able to have more success explaining the truth to the folks involved than we have had so far.
“We are confident that, in the end, people will realize that the reservoirs are managed as a system and are used for the benefit of all, not just a select few private homeowners.”
HOOT (Home Owners On Toronto) President Hal Teitelbaum, who has lived along Toronto’s shores within the high-end Chapin Estate for four years, is perhaps better known as the managing partner and founder of Crystal Run Healthcare.
But he’s become a key figure in the quest to stabilize water levels at the reservoir, leading a group representing the majority of people who own property fronting the reservoir at Chapin.
In fact, he established the non-profit corporation last summer in anticipation of these events. Noting that former owner Mirant had made “reasonable accommodations” with residents to keep water levels high, Teitelbaum said initial conversations he had with Alliance’s Klimaszewski were similarly agreeable.
“But basically from that time on, it was my impression that his words and his deeds frequently did not match,” Teitelbaum charged, adding that he was subsequently told the company would operate Toronto as it saw fit.
Though Alliance owns electric-generating infrastructure upstate, Teitelbaum felt its administration of Toronto indicated a lack of experience with hydroelectric operations. He claimed that Alliance drew down the reservoir as much as a foot a day after Labor Day and never appeared to do any maintenance on the dam that would justify such a drawdown.
“They appear to me to be uncertain,” he said, adding that notices of a water drawdown were sent to the wrong addresses by Alliance.
While he acknowledged the downstream needs of the system, Teitelbaum lamented the company made clear it “was unwilling to commit to the need to provide any particular level of water on Toronto for recreation.”
“We are not against the minimum outflow requirements,” he said. “We are against arbitrary and capricious drainage of the reservoir for uncertain purposes.”
An October 24 letter written by HOOT attorney Greg Williams Jr. to FERC stated that Woodstone owner Steve Dubrovsky had met with Teitelbaum and Alliance last August to work out a mutually agreeable water level and solve the access issue at the same time.
“We are aware that Woodstone Companies has offered to resolve Toronto Dam access by offering to provide access over Woodstone’s property in exchange for a higher and more stable Toronto Reservoir elevation,” Williams wrote. “... HOOT has been greatly frustrated by [Alliance’s] action following the August 2008 meeting. It has become evident that [Alliance’s] operating regime for Toronto Reservoir has been fashioned without any regard for the many homeowners on Toronto Reservoir.”
Teitelbaum said that Woodstone and Dubrovsky are not members of HOOT, and HOOT is not participating in the litigation between Woodstone and Alliance over the second public access. Nor is HOOT interested in restricting public access.
“But access is meaningless when you’re dealing with a mudhole,” Teitelbaum commented.
And he doubted that water levels would return to normal by the start of the summer boating and fishing season in May.
While HOOT is still determining whether or not it wants to advocate for grieving taxes, it may soon petition FERC to reopen hearings on Alliance’s operating license.
“We’re considering legal action, yes,” he said. “But we’re hoping that the regulators do what they need to do.”.