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Pete Lopez
NYS Assembly - 102nd

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Schenectady Gazette Coverage of Lopez- NYPA Flood Press Conference

Power authority called on to do more for flood mitigation Schoharie County officials express concern

Daniel Fitzsimmons | March 24, 2017

Officials and concerned residents in Schoharie County and the surrounding area joined Assemblyman Peter Lopez on Friday in calling on the New York Power Authority to take a more active role in flood mitigation measures at its Blenheim-Gilboa Pumped Storage Power Project. During Tropical Storm Irene in 2011 the authority was nearly unable to open its floodgates because of the storm’s effect on its primary and backup systems.

Although flooding from the storm devastated the Schoharie Valley, the damage could have been much more extensive for communities east of the Schoharie Creek. The Gilboa Dam, which is owned and operated by the NYC Department of Environmental Protection and provides drinking water for that city, was holding back 23 million gallons of stored water. The power authority’s Blenheim-Gilboa facility provides electricity to the state’s power grid during times of peak usage. Neither operation is meant for flood control, but in the wake of Irene local officials called on both the NYC DEP and NYPA to take all reasonable measures to use their facilities to mitigate the impact of future floods and protect public safety. During Irene, the DEP warned Schoharie Valley residents of the dam’s possible collapse, which would’ve led to the collapse of the power authority’s dam and the release of an additional 5 billion gallons of water from one of their reservoirs. The resulting surge -- at nearly 30 billion gallons of water -- could have had a significant impact on communities throughout Montgomery, Schenectady and Albany counties.

In the years since Irene, Lopez said the DEP had modified its operations to offer additional protections during floods to residents downstream of the Schoharie Creek. But concerned officials and others say NYPA has been slow to implement its own flood safety measures. They’re asking the authority to establish a pumping protocol that would create a void at the two Blenheim-Gilboa reservoirs and provide protection for those living downstream during a possible flood. They’re also asking for physical plant modifications, including the construction of a spillway, at the authority’s Blenheim-Gilboa facility. In a letter sent Monday to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Lopez said he and other local officials believe NYPA does not truly wish to modify the Blenheim-Gilboa facility or protocols, but rather is seeking to downplay to the federal agency the significance of potential flood threats in the future.

Meanwhile, the power authority is in the midst of a relicensing process with FERC to operate the Blenheim-Gilboa facility. Lopez and other officials accused NYPA in their letter Monday of seeking to exclude flooding considerations from the relicensing process, and urged the federal agency to conduct an analysis of flood resiliency concerns at the authority’s facility before granting the authority a renewed license. Lopez said Friday that since the letter to FERC, officials at the power authority have been seeking to meet with his office and other stakeholders to discuss solutions. He said he feels confident the power authority will take the necessary steps to insure their Blenheim-Gilboa facility helps protect local residents from flooding. “After we put the letter out ... our phones started to light up,” said Lopez. “I think they understand the weight of the coalition.” He added that the coalition “would prevail upon FERC, and ... we don’t want to hurt [the power authority], but they know that their life would be much more difficult if they’re resisting us as a community than if they work with us.”

Lopez said the coalition doesn’t want to play hardball with the power authority’s relicensing application to FERC, but isn’t afraid to do so. “We just want to protect our homes and families,” he said.

The power authority released a statement after Lopez’s press conference Friday morning indicating its willingness to cooperate with the community. “We, at NYPA, as community members who live and work in Schoharie County, continue to work collaboratively with our local, state and federal partners to ensure that our ability to operate the Blenheim-Gilboa Power Project is maintained and that public safety is a top priority, including in the cases of high-water and other weather-related events,” the authority said in its statement. A spokeswoman pointed out that the authority held a public meeting in March with concerned citizens to get feedback on a comprehensive flood study they conducted. She added that the authority is looking to formalize a committee made up of itself, the Schoharie County Emergency Services Office, the Schoharie County Sheriff’s Department and the DEP to tackle issues of flood mitigation.
 
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