3/24/17 - Today, community leaders gathered from across areas downstream of the Blenheim Gilboa Pumped Storage Power Project (B-G) to call on the New York Power Authority (NYPA) to engage in flood mitigation and strengthen its facility to withstand future floods and provide greater protections to downstream residents.
“The impacts of Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee caused the near breach of both the City of New York’s Dam at the Schoharie Reservoir and NYPA’s B-G dam and forever changed the way our community looks at weather events. We are calling on the New York Power Authority to work with us to protect the public,” said Assemblyman Pete Lopez, whose parents and staff were part of the broader community who lost their homes and businesses during the two storm events.
Coupled with this outreach to NYPA, a parallel request has been made to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to ensure that flood mitigation be fully vetted as FERC reviews NYPA’s application for a 50-year relicensing of the B-G facility.
“Two years ago, I co-signed the letter that went to the New York Power Authority and the City of New York, calling on them to engage in flood mitigation. I join with my colleagues in neighboring counties to reinforce the continued importance of NYPA’s role in helping protect communities below the B-G reservoir and dam,” said Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy from the 109th A.D.
Assemblyman John T. McDonald III said, “As a former mayor of a river city and as a legislator representing five river cities, I understand the importance of flood resilience and mitigation efforts. I share Assemblyman Lopez’s concerns regarding this relicensing effort and hope that the New York Power Authority will partner with the impacted local governments to reach a resolution of this issue.”
“As an Amsterdam resident and Mayor, I have seen the devastation that flooding can cause,” said Mayor Michael Villa. “All we need to do is look at 2011's Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee, and 2012’s Hurricane Sandy. Assemblyman Lopez has been a strong proponent to have New York City and the Power Authority work with Schoharie County in a flood mitigation plan. It is time for the Power Authority to get on board and be a good ‘neighbor.’ Recently, New York City has been cooperative, and now the Power Authority needs to join this effort. We can no longer accept the excuse that the Power Authority does 'power' and not flooding. We support Assemblyman Lopez and the Flood Resiliency Project.”
“The Village of Middleburgh remains very concerned about the process of relicensing,” said Middleburgh Mayor Matt Avitabile. “We would be appreciative of any openness and cooperation. We thank the Assemblyman’s office and community partners for working together on this issue.”
“The downtown section of the city is particularly vulnerable to flooding and is highly sensitive to the need for mitigation,” said Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy. The City of Schenectady supports the goal of ensuring that the Power Authority also includes flood management in their operations and facilities. We are pleased with the progress that has been made with the City of New York and at the Gilboa Reservoir, and encourage the Power Authority to work with downstream interests and FERC.”
Schoharie Town Supervisor Chris Tague applauds and stands with Assemblyman Pete Lopez on his efforts to promote flood mitigation and resiliency throughout the region. Tague, a resident of the Village of Schoharie, was one of many residents throughout the Mohawk Valley who experienced firsthand the destruction of the flooding associated with storms Irene and Lee. During the storms in 2011, Tague's home was destroyed and he and his family's lives, like many others, was turned upside down. He has since rebuilt and is getting his life back together, but like many others has serious concerns of the possibility of another catastrophic event like what happened during August of 2011. Mr. Tague stated, “Today I stand with Assemblyman Lopez, Dam Concerned Citizens, local school districts, our emergency services and law enforcement professionals, our farmers, and business owners, and most importantly our residents, in calling on the New York Power Authority to support us as a partner and stakeholder to promote flood mitigation and work to provide greater protection to life and property downstream.” Tague concluded by saying, “I pray to God we never have to go through what we did during Irene and Lee. I look at this as an opportunity to partner up in the best interest of all stakeholders and make our beautiful valley a safer place to live and raise our families, run our farms and businesses. I applaud New York City Department of Environmental Protection (NYCDEP) on their efforts and commitment to the Schoharie Valley and I Stand with Assemblyman Lopez and others as we invite and welcome The New York Power Authority (NYPA) to do the same and join the team.”
“The Schoharie County Chamber of Commerce strongly supports continued collaborative efforts made by many agencies, businesses and recovery groups throughout our determined, and resilient county,” said Georgia Van Dyke of the Schoharie County Chamber of Commerce. “We believe these combined efforts will help maintain Schoharie County as the beautiful and caring community it has always been.”
As part of broad-based recovery and storm resiliency efforts, a diverse coalition of state, federal and local stakeholders made a formal request to the City of New York and the Power Authority roughly two years ago to change the way the two do business, incorporate changes in operating protocols, and seek structural changes in their facilities to promote public safety. While the City of New York has made excellent progress with this request, many local leaders have expressed concern with the limited response from NYPA, noting recent efforts from the Power Authority which gave the appearance of downplaying flooding.
Howard R. Bartholomew, President of Dam Concerned Citizens, Inc. a non-profit group which has made the safety of the Power Authority dam and the NYC Reservoir Dam their priority noted, " It will be in the public's best interest, if NYPA enhances their dam's capability on the Schoharie Creek at the Blenheim/Gilboa Pumped Storage Power Project to be better able to accommodate the increased volume of future floods, resulting from climate change. The New York City Department of Environmental Protection has already done so at the Gilboa Dam/Schoharie Reservoir, located five miles upstream from NYPA at B/G".
Assemblyman Lopez added, “We are asking the Power Authority to be a responsible neighbor and cooperatively engage in this important discussion as it goes through its request for a 50-year renewal of its operating license from FERC.”
On Aug. 28, 2011, the day Hurricane Irene hit the region, Governor Cuomo traveled to the New York Power Authority’s Pump Storage Project in Blenheim to conduct an inspection after local earthquake activity raised concerns at the facility. Heavy rains and wind gusts were already underway as the tour took place. Following the tour with Power Authority leadership, the Governor and Assemblyman Lopez found it difficult to work their way to their respective destinations as water flowed across roadways.
As Irene settled in, major damage mounted; roads and bridges were made impassable, while cable, telephone and power lines were severed. As the storm intensified and flooding began, homes and other structures were destroyed. By the early afternoon, the New York City Department of Environmental Protection issued a “Class B Aert” warning of imminent failure of the Gilboa Dam and the inevitable collapse of the Power Authority’s Tainter gates. At that time, water was flowing eight feet over the Gilboa Dam spillway at roughly 135,000 cubic feet per second (the equivalent of Niagara Falls). Behind the dam approximately 23 billion gallons of water was in storage, and when coupled with the five billion gallons in the lower reservoir of the B-G facility, would have sent a tidal wave-like surge through the Schoharie Valley to the Mohawk River, seriously impacting numerous communities in nearby Montgomery, Schenectady and Albany counties above and beyond the damage they were already receiving from the storms. NYPA leadership, who were present for the meeting with the Governor and the Assemblyman at the B-G facility, found themselves trapped there as the storm continued to pound the region.
Adding to the severity of the situation, the Power Authority found itself unable to readily open their floodgates, as both primary and backup systems failed. A small handful of NYPA employees were able to rig the control panel with an emergency generator to activate the release works before the Tainter gates were overtopped.
This experience, and the weather events that have followed, reinforced the community’s resolve to develop tools that can protect life and property from future storm events. Representatives at the press conference discussed how seriously communities and other stakeholders take this charge. They see the need for the Power Authority to do its best to encourage an inclusive process for public consideration to ensure that NYPA is able to be part of a framework that protects downstream interests, while simultaneously pursuing its primary mission of supplying energy to the grid at periods of peak demands.
Schoharie Village Mayor, John Borst, stated, “Safety of our Village residents is THE primary concern of the Schoharie Village Board. We were ground zero in 2011 and we don’t want to go through that again. It is incumbent on the dam operators to take whatever steps are necessary to help mitigate the disastrous impacts of high creek flows on all downstream communities.”
Over the course of the last few days, NYPA has reached out to the Assemblyman Lopez’s office and other partners in this discussion to open the dialogue and improve the flow of communication. Technical workgroup meetings will be scheduled in the near future to fully identify concerns, and work through community recommendations to ensure a thorough and thoughtful discussion of options for strengthening storm resiliency. These groups will also explore opportunities for instituting flood mitigation procedures and/or structural improvements.
Assemblyman Phillip Steck of the 110th Assembly District noted, “As a member of the Assembly who represents three downstream communities on the Mohawk (Schenectady, Niskayuna, and Colonie), I can attest that flood mitigation is a critical issue, particularly in low lying areas like the historic Stockade neighborhood in Schenectady. While progress has been made, I am hopeful that all communities and agencies who share this major watershed can come together for all necessary solutions to this problem.”
Assemblyman Lopez concluded, “I have been very encouraged by the Power Authority’s recent, sincere receptiveness to working together on this issue and look forward to future meetings with the Authority as it pursues relicensing.”
Correspondence Packet Available