Water's Back at Reservoir
By Dan Hust
MONGAUP VALLEY May 4, 2007 The water’s back, but Swinging Bridge Reservoir remains closed.
And when it will open is anybody’s guess.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which licenses reservoir owner Mirant to operate Swinging Bridge for hydroelectric purposes, offers the closest thing to a date.
“We are about 90 percent completed with the process of refilling the reservoir and related issues,” said FERC spokesperson Celeste Miller.
“Once that 10 percent is completed, which we expect to be early summer, we will lift the restriction on the recreation.”
In the meantime, said Mirant’s spokesperson, Lou Friscoe, people should not listen to reopening rumors or more importantly, act on them.
“Swinging Bridge Reservoir is still shut down,” he said, adding that that means no one can put a boat or a dock in its waters.
Yet the height of the water is around 1,060 feet above sea level close to the levels normally seen before an emergency dam repair forced a 50-foot reduction two years ago.
In other words, the water is plenty deep enough for the boating, fishing, swimming and more that have been a staple of Sullivan County’s largest recreational lake for the last 80 years.
So what’s the problem? Friscoe could not be specific, saying only that the water will be drawn down about 10 feet in the next few days to continue work on dam-area repairs.
The lake’s full level is as much a result of heavy rains as the gradual, controlled refilling efforts by Mirant. The company, with FERC’s permission, has been adding 10 feet to the water’s height over time to test the integrity of the repaired dam, but recent rainfall has rapidly increased the lake’s level.
Mirant, however, did not immediately discharge excess water to compensate, possibly indicating that Mother Nature’s “test” of the dam may have given engineers the information they needed.
“We plan to have an announcement very soon,” said Friscoe although he admitted it might come from Alliance Energy Renewables, which is close to completing its purchase of Mirant’s Mongaup holdings, which includes Swinging Bridge and three nearby reservoirs.
Alliance has promised to restore Swinging Bridge to historic levels and keep it open for recreational and hydroelectric uses.
Swinging Bridge Marina owner Bill Croissant believes they will keep their word, but in the meantime his business continues to suffer the devastating effects of two years of no reservoir access and the very real possibility of a third.
“Two years before [the dam repair], we had very bad weather,” he said on a sunny but quiet day earlier this week. “This has damn near destroyed my business.”
But he didn’t give up, working with his sons to build and repair docks and boats destined for other area lakes and rivers.
They even garnered a contract from Mirant to remove 20 acres’ worth of debris piled two feet deep at the base of Swinging Bridge’s dam a result, said Croissant, of the lake’s rapid refilling, which yanked hundreds upon hundreds of tree stumps and other detritus from a once-muddy bottom that had been exposed to the elements and subsequently dried out.
The effort took three pontoon boats (water-borne bulldozers, as Croissant put it), two excavators and several dump trucks, but it kept the family busy for more than a week this past April.
And it kept Croissant in the place he’s called home for nearly 40 years.
“I like it here, and I’m 70 years old. Where am I going?” he related with a laugh. “I don’t think money is the end of everything.”
But he admits he’s suffered mightily in the economic arena and it’s not over yet.
“It’s not really about the money I lost,” he explained, pointing to the future. “Just because the lake is coming back doesn’t mean my business will.”
He remains optimistic, erecting a sign out on Route 17B (temporarily in legal limbo and thus unfinished) and hoping the county might find a few ways to give him a grant or otherwise push funds his way (they’ve so far said no, Croissant lamented angrily).
“Nobody can say I owe them any money,” he stated, blue eyes flashing with pride. “Unfortunately, a lot of people owe me money.”
And thus he also remains realistic, uncertain whether or not the federal government will enable Mirant or Alliance to move fast enough to reopen Swinging Bridge in time for the summer season.
“It’s up to FERC,” he said with a shrug. “FERC is king.”