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Blenheim-Gilboa plant’s relicensing may include easing flood risks

Sunday, January 27, 2013
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— Lawsuit-related research into what role a Schoharie County hydroelectric plant might have played in Tropical Storm Irene damages could lead to flood mitigation improvements along the valley as part of the plant’s relicensing, an official said Friday.

Federal regulators issued a notice to the New York Power Authority on Jan. 19 reminding the agency its license for the Blenheim-Gilboa Pumped Storage Power Project expires in April 2019.

The lengthy review will begin formally next year when NYPA is required to submit a “pre-application document,” but work is already under way on behalf of Schoharie County that stands to realize a windfall of “host community benefits” such licensing projects involve.

NYPA’s relicensing for its other hydro projects, the St. Lawrence-FDR Power Project and the Niagara Power Project, both yielded more than $100 million to school districts and communities that host them.

Schoharie County hired an Albany law firm in early 2011 to begin relicensing research on the county’s behalf. Then Tropical Storm Irene drowned the valley.

The flood led to a lawsuit filed against the NYPA by property owners, schools and Schoharie County.

County Attorney Michael West said he doesn’t suspect ongoing litigation will hinder efforts that focus on the relicensing, but will instead lead to more-detailed information.

He said the county hired an engineer to study the flood and come up with a “theory of liability,” which would tie NYPA’s handling of the B-G facility with flooding damage.

In a sense, West said research learned during the lawsuit can provide critical details and support for flood mitigation efforts that can be tied to the relicensing project.

“The purpose of the relicensing is to determine if there’s been any impacts that need to be mitigated,” West said.

“As a result of this recent flood, what we’re doing may be important because it might actually show the impacts,” he said.

A lawsuit and discovery requirements, West said, could yield more information gathering power than a relicense project alone.

“We may discover information we ordinarily may not be entitled to,” he said.

Though working in tandem, he said the lawsuit is all about ensuring Schoharie County is made as whole as possible by those to which liability can be attributed.

“We lost millions and millions of dollars in assessment. That’s gone forever; it’s never going to be taxed again,” West said.

NYPA spokesman Paul DeMichele provided the following statement via email: “The New York Power Authority (NYPA) received a notification from FERC on January 18 regarding the expiration of its federal license for the Blenheim-Gilboa facility in 2019. NYPA has until April 30, 2014, to file a Notice of Intent (NOI) to relicense with FERC and is preparing the necessary documentation. At this time, NYPA intends to have a B-G relicensing-focused website online in advance of the NOI.”

People interested in the process can get emails sent to their inbox any time correspondence to or from federal regulators related to the Blenheim-Gilboa facility from the FERC website at www.ferc.gov. The B-G project’s number is 2685.

 
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