Aerial shot of the Cranberry Lake dam, taken by drone, by Tom French.

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Former operator pursued after failing khổng lồ make repairs, allegedly violating license

By Zachary Matson

A private company with a federal license to operate the dam at Cranberry Lake faces a potential civil penalty of $600,000 after it allegedly failed khổng lồ make certain safety upgrades and recently agreed to terminate its lease with the local authority that owns the dam.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Oct. 21 issued notice of the proposed penalty against Ampersand Cranberry Lake Hydro, an entity tied to a Boston-based firm, according to lớn documents. The company, licensed khổng lồ operate the dam as a power-generating facility since 2015, has 30 days lớn respond.

Ampersand over the summer resolved a separate legal dispute with the dam’s owner, the Oswegatchie River-Cranberry Reservoir Regulating District Corporation, agreeing to terminate its lease agreement & vacate the property after it failed to lớn make rent payments. While Ampersand had used the dam khổng lồ generate hydroelectric power, the regulating district worked with National Grid to lớn de-energize the dam powerhouse after Ampersand vacated the property.

That settlement agreement, though, allegedly placed the company in violation of its federal license, which required the company lớn “retain the necessary property rights” to lớn complete repairs required under the license.

A view of the Oswegatchie River at the Cranberry Lake dam. Photo by Tom French

The dam on the Oswegatchie River is located at the northern reach of Cranberry Lake, near state Route 3 across the lake from the state’s Cranberry Lake Campground.

The local regulating district corporation initiated legal kích hoạt against Ampersand in January 2019, seeking khổng lồ potentially evict the company from the dam. FERC officials repeatedly warned Ampersand that its license required it to lớn maintain access khổng lồ the dam and that it was responsible for specific safety improvements at the site.

‘High hazard potential’

The Oct. 21 FERC filing, an order lớn show cause that gives Ampersand a chance lớn argue why it has not violated the license, indicates that the dam poses a potential risk to people living near it. FERC classified the dam as having “high hazard potential,” noting “a failure of the project works would result in a probable loss of human life.”

When Ampersand took over the FERC license from a previous operator in 2015, the company agreed khổng lồ address the various safety concerns. The company was required lớn repair the project’s so-called fuse plug spillway in the dam’s embankment, which is designed lớn “provide a controlled release in an effort to lớn avoid a full breach and subsequent uncontrolled release” in the event of very high flows, according khổng lồ FERC. The company never made the improvements lớn the fuse plug.

“Before it acquired the license, Ampersand Cranberry Lake committed lớn complete this work by the second calendar quarter of 2017, but it has failed to vày so,” according to the FERC filing last week. “Instead, Ampersand Cranberry Lake has submitted a lengthy series of extension requests covering nearly the entire time that it has held the license for the project.”

Celeste Miller, a spokesperson with the federal commission, in response to emailed questions on Tuesday said the fact that the dam was no longer in use generating nguồn did not resolve the safety concerns.

“The operating status of the project has no impact on the hazard potential rating,” Miller said.

Less concerned

Local officials and a representative for the regulating district corporation that owns the dam, though, said they aren’t as alarmed as FERC.

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“I’m not concerned about the safety of the dam whatsoever,” said Charles Hooven, supervisor of the Town of Clinton, which includes the hamlet of Cranberry Lake. “I don’t have any concerns about it, and I don’t think anyone locally has any concerns.”

Lori Severino, a spokesperson for the state Department of Environmental Conservation, Tuesday noted that the “high hazard” classification “refers to the potential for damage upon a dam’s failure, not its likelihood of failure.” The classification applies lớn dams where “failure may result in widespread or serious damage to homes, main highways, industrial or commercial buildings, railroads” and more, but Severino noted DEC was not aware of any “immediate danger” at the dam.

“DEC works closely with FERC in the sự kiện any immediate danger is noted & none has been reported to lớn DEC,” Severino said.

Severino said that FERC’s license still supersedes the state’s dam safety jurisdiction, but that DEC dam safety staff plans lớn accompany FERC on the federal commission’s next inspection of the dam. Severino added that DEC has had several conversations with FERC regarding the status of the dam.

Charles Gardner, a Gouverneur-based attorney representing the dam’s regulating district corporation, on Tuesday confirmed that Ampersand agreed khổng lồ terminate the lease and had vacated the dam premises this summer. He said the dam was not currently in operation generating power and that the regulating district was not actively seeking a new operator to lease the facility.

Gardner also said the regulating district’s board does not tóm tắt the safety concerns cited byFERC. “They vày not,” he said.

He said Ampersand initially made its lease payments but then stopped, suggesting that operating the dam was not working out economically for the private company. He said the regulating district pursued litigation after the company failed to lớn make the lease payments, agreeing khổng lồ a settlement that resulted in Ampersand vacating the dam & turning over any equipment to lớn the regulating district.

“I don’t think it was ever economically feasible for (Ampersand), and they didn’t pay their lease agreement,” Gardner said Tuesday. “It wasn’t economically feasible for the (regulating) corporation lớn have a lessee that didn’t pay.”

Gardner noted that historically the dam was not operated as a power-generating facility, but a private company started operating it as a hydroelectric dam in the late-1980s. Ampersand purchased the dam license during the previous operator’s bankruptcy proceeding, he said.

“The purpose of the dam is khổng lồ make Cranberry Lake,” he said. “That’s what (the dam) is there for, not to generate power.”

Reached by phone, Sayad Moudachirou, whose name appears in FERC paperwork as a representative of Ampersand, on Monday did not phản hồi about the dam license or proposed penalty.

Miller, the FERC spokesperson, on Tuesday said that Ampersand could tệp tin an application with the commission khổng lồ surrender its license. That application would initiate a separate process but would not necessarily không tính phí the company from the threat of the penalty.

“License surrender would not necessarily affect the show cause proceeding,” Miller said.

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