About Gwendolyn Craig

Gwen covers environmental policy in the Adirondacks. Contact her at (518) 524-2902 or gwen@adirondackexplorer.org. You can also follow her on Twitter, @gwendolynnn1.

Reader Interactions

Comments

  1. Danny says

    The DEC has been talking about this for over 30 years years. Still nothing much has been done. The Department of Environmental Conversation. All talk and little action. Just like the rail trail.

  2. Luke says

    Hi Gwendolyn,
    Several compelling and juicy details of the story surrounding Imperial Dam deserve more coverage, I think readers would really appreciate if you could investigate the following.
    1- DEC is not a part owner of the dam
    2- The dam has been out of regulatory compliance since 2002, with a proposed bailout for the private dam owner
    3- No engineering analysis has been conducted to show that removal costs 5 times more than retrofitting. Whether or not this is a fact-based claim, nobody knows because there’s never been an official, itemized cost estimate from a professional engineer.

    The first is a fact check. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation is not a part owner of Imperial Dam. They own the earthen berm on the left bank of the river. The brick and mortar concrete spillway is owned solely by Mr. Rex Jacobsma of Main Mills Street Investments (1508 Olive Street, Paso Robles, CA 93446). This real estate ownership clarification can be easily confirmed by viewing the Clinton County tax map or accessing that same data on a cell phone app such as the OnX application.

    Imperial Dam has been out of compliance with DEC’s own dam safety regulations since 2002. Normally, existing outside environmental compliance regulations triggers compliance enforcement, or such is the case for most of the ordinary interactions that individuals and corporations have with NYS DEC. In this unique case DEC has offered to buy Main Mills Street Investments out of their infraction using tax payer dollars by insisting that- since the earthen berm, located on the states adjacent property is part of Imperial Dam- the state is somehow responsible for paying for the repairs to the dam and building the subsequent fish ladder for Atlantic salmon. Again look at the tax parcel data which is overlayed with aerial imagery and it is clear who owns the concrete in the river. The earthen berm on state land sits in what would be the floodplain if the berm didn’t block flood flow attenuation, an important ecosystem service. If DEC had enforced regulatory compliance against Main Mills Street Investments, Rex Jacobsma not being the recipient of a 12 million dollar subsidy might have tried to sell the dam to DEC or to a conservation buyer who could begin the dam removal process. But by awkwardly buying Mr. Jacobsma out of his problem, DEC has lost their leverage. Ordinarily, DEC has defined its reputation as being a regulatory agency, enforcing regulatory compliance is what they do well, which is why this story is so bizarre.

    A recent Times Union article announced that 147 dams are unsound in New York State, highlighting that what we have today is a simple tragedy of the commons situation where DEC can’t fix or remove them all and has indeed fixed or removed very few (in the lower Hudson, DEC’s attitude on dam removal has been much more progressive). Why we should care about removing Imperial Dam has to do with more than just Atlantic Salmon. You would think that Atlantic salmon in downtown industrial Plattsburgh (of all places!), a charismatic species on the brink of extinction in the Gulf of Maine and globally would be reason enough to get the public riled up. But this is not, as the article implies, an issue that frustrates only a few fisherman. This is an issue that affects our community, and the entire watershed health of the Saranac river. This is about public safety, vulnerable downstream populations in an urban environment. Dams are large, ugly hunks of (in this case- abandoned) concrete left over from a bygone mill town era that has long since moved on and no longer supports our values. Dams are to rivers what cholesterol is to the arteries, they block the essential ecological and geomorphic functions of our planets circulatory system- rivers. When the dam stopped producing energy, its regulatory authority was forfeited by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and defaulted to becoming the Dept. of Env. Conservations burden. DEC has been talking about the fish ladder for 30 years. Now, allegedly, its finally happening. But what’s the cost? 12 million dollars total to bring a useless, nonfunctioning dam back up to compliance, to build back that which does not belong. Why are taxpayers updating this piece of junk? DEC claims that removing the dam would cost 30 million dollars but has produced no engineering study to support this back-of-the-envelope guess. To be clear, no engineers estimate exists. If it exists, let them show it to us. What if the removal of this useless dam only cost 12 million dollars or less and nobody knows because no third-party engineering study has been produced to estimate the cost of dam removal?

    Skeptics may say why protest when we’re so close but there is an overwhelming amount of data showing fish ladders work poorly and many are multi-million dollar failures. Fish, go figure, prefer natural riverbeds to concrete, hydraulics and aluminum tubes.

    Even if it’s cheaper to remove the dam, Mr. Jacobsma doesn’t want to remove it. Well of course he doesn’t when the taxpayers are offering to upgrade his infrastructure…

    What about the other dams upstream? Conservation advocates are aware, and we will remove those dams too, one at a time they will become damaged by floods or too costly to repair, until gradually removal is the only option. It’s a story that’s played out over and over again from Maine to the pacific northwest. Imperial Dam should have been removed instead of abandoned when it stopped producing hydropower. 50 to 100 years from now, Imperial will be damaged by a flood or become too costly to repair, so the question becomes, why not do it now? I’d like to ask that the Explorer take a deeper look at this issue and work towards in depth, long form coverage of this vastly complicated story.

    Its never too late to do the right thing.

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