Senator: Force Mirant to repair 11.75-MW Swinging Bridge Dam

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., is urging the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to insist that Mirant Corp., owner of the 11.75-MW Swinging Bridge project, repair the failing dam to a condition that would permit the resumption of hydropower generation.

Discovery of a sinkhole in the dam crest in May 2005 led to the emergency shutdown of the project. Swinging Bridge Reservoir was drawn down 45 feet to reduce the likelihood and potential damage from dam failure.

Mirant NY-Gen LLC Chief Executive Officer S. Linn Williams said the company is reviewing options including the surrender of licenses to operate not only Swinging Bridge (No. 10482), but two associated projects on New York’s Mongaup River — 10-MW Rio (No. 9690) and 4-MW Mongaup (No. 10481).

Bankrupt licensee might surrender projects

In a letter to Director J. Mark Robinson of FERC’s Office of Energy Projects, Williams said Mirant NY-Gen is under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and has limited funds. Williams said Mirant wants to take those actions that maximize public safety using the limited financial resources available to it.

However, Schumer and other federal, state, and local officials filed objections, asking FERC to prevent Mirant from surrendering the licenses. In a March 9 letter, Schumer urged FERC Chairman Joseph Kelliher to insist that Mirant repair Swinging Bridge Dam completely and restore water to recreational levels in the reservoir and the entire system connected with it. While those measures might be costly, Schumer said it is unthinkable that hundreds of homeowners could be looking at mud flats instead of waterfront, and that many more local residents would lose their favorite recreational area and a significant contributor to the tax base.

Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y., told Kelliher it is critical to the future of Sullivan County, N.Y., that FERC prevent Mirant from surrendering its operating license without requiring that Swinging Bridge Reservoir be restored to full capacity. He said it also is critical that FERC ensure Swinging Bridge Dam is safe at the lowered water surface levels, and the dam is restored expeditiously, so the reservoir can be safely returned to full capacity.

FERC said rehabilitation of the dam is a complex process and is not expected to be completed until this fall. Remediation was divided into two phases of construction to meet current dam safety standards. The first phase was completed in March.

When sinkhole remediation is complete, Kelliher said, FERC is to require controlled refilling of the reservoir. In letters to Schumer, Hinchey, and Commissioner Denise Sheehan of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Kelliher said the reservoir would be refilled in increments, with stop points, until it reaches its full operating level. At those stop points, instruments will be monitored to confirm the repairs are effective. If everything is acceptable when the reservoir reaches full normal operating level, it will be left at normal levels, he said.

Mirant NY-Gen is a unit of Mirant Corp., which began operation as Southern Energy, a unit of Southern Co., in 1982. Southern Co. spun off the renamed unit in 2001. Mirant filed for Chapter 11 protection in 2003 during a decline in the wholesale power market.

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