By Dan Hust
SULLIVAN COUNTY March 6, 2007 Swinging Bridge Reservoir-area residents may have reason to be optimistic in the coming months unlike a host of county, town and school district officials.
Mirant External Affairs Officer Lou Friscoe said yesterday that refilling of the drawn-down lake could begin this week.
And should Alliance Energy Renewables’ $3 million bid to take over Mirant’s Mongaup holdings go through, it will include the three federal licenses granting the owner the authority to operate the involved hydroelectric facilities.
Those licenses require a proper environment be maintained around the facilities which, according to Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) spokesperson Celeste Miller, include restoring Swinging Bridge to its historic level.
That process may start in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court arena this week, but it will take some time before property, facilities and licenses are transferred.
In that time, Mirant could possibly complete the refilling, although Friscoe warned it’s going to be “a lengthy process.”
As part of the final stage of repairs to the Swinging Bridge Dam damaged in 2005 by a sinkhole the reservoir’s water level will be increased in 10-foot increments as engineers conduct tests on the dam’s integrity.
The goal for Mirant is to have the reservoir level back to what is considered “full”: 1,070 feet above sea level.
That’s around 50 feet higher than what exists now a situation that has devastated homeowners and two marinas along the former shores of Sullivan County’s largest boating lake.
But that may be over this year. If and when Alliance succeeds Mirant, Friscoe said the three involved FERC licenses will go with the sale, and FERC’s Miller said her agency will “ensure there’s compliance with the licenses.”
While an exact water level is apparently not stipulated, each involved reservoir has inflow and discharge requirements, and Miller said the entire environment is taken into account with each license.
Should Alliance, itself an energy company, decide to cease operating the hydroelectric facilities along the Mongaup River, it would have to undergo a lengthy process to surrender the three involved licenses, and Miller said that would be subject to an environmental review.
This is perhaps the most certain aspect of what is otherwise an uncertain, fearful time for Sullivan County officials, who see Mirant’s $26.6 million worth of local holdings losing more than $23 million in taxable value, should the sale go through.
Municipalities like the Town of Lumberland and the Eldred Central School District stand to lose hundreds of thousands of tax dollars.