A company that sought to build a hydroelectric facility using the Ashokan Reservoir in the Catskills has withdrawn its proposal, citing strong opposition as one reason. While the company intends to propose a similar project elsewhere in the New York City watershed, opponents are celebrating news of the Ashokan project’s demise.
In an April 12 letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, California-based Premium Energy Holdings Managing Director Victor Rojas said the company would withdraw its preliminary permit application for the Ashokan Pumped Storage Project.
“Well, right now we decided to just say, close the Ashokan initial project, the way it was presented to FERC in the application and just to start all over again, first, with the consulting with the communities and doing all the legwork first with the New York City and everybody else that are the main stakeholders,” Rojas says.
Town of Olive Supervisor Jim Sofranko:
“There is great relief in the Town of Olive for the withdrawal of the application by Mr. Rojas, and I’d like to thank him for his acknowledgment of the stress the proposal created in our communities,” Sofranko says.
The project sought to generate hydroelectric power by drawing from the Ashokan Reservoir and creating a new dam and reservoir.
“This would have been devastating. We’ve already seen people holding off on constructing homes, doing additions in their homes, hesitant to buy or sell land because of the possibility of this project moving forward. So there’s great relief and we’re hoping, we’re hoping… This would have been just overwhelming,” says Sofranko. “We already have a utility-scale public utility in our town with the New York City watershed system in the Ashokan Reservoir. We already have a lot of restrictions in place environmentally that we’ve sacrificed since the beginning of the, building of the reservoir in the Town of Olive.”
Kathy Nolan is senior research director with Catskill Mountainkeeper.
“Well, the company withdrawing this proposal is wonderful, and it’s a tribute to how quickly the community came together and how forcefully and clearly they raised the arguments that this was a wrong place for this type of project and for this particular project,” Nolan says.
Democratic State Senator Michelle Hinchey held a press conference last week at the Ashokan Center in Olivebridge, joining with local leaders, environmental groups and others to oppose the Ashokan pumped storage project. President and CEO of the Ashokan Center Jay Ungar cheers the project withdrawal.
“I think there are flaws in the concept, possibly. There may be alternative ways to do this that are not as invasive,” Ungar says. “And I think it’s prudent for us as a society to look at all those options and do what’s best for everybody rather than just a few folks.”
Ungar, Sofranko and others thanked Senator Hinchey for opposing the project. Hinchey says she is thrilled about the application withdrawal. She says the project would have destroyed the purity of the drinking water, devastated protected Catskills wilderness and displaced entire communities. And, speaking earlier Monday on the last day for public comments, she recognized the opposition’s campaign.
“One of the silver linings of this moment is that there has been an incredible grassroots uprising against, in opposition of this project,” Hinchey says.
Daniel Morgan is with the Coalition to Save Catskills Preserve, a grassroots group that formed against the project.
“I feel like we’re a really privileged community in that our area had capacity and resources and the time to fight this,” Morgan says.
A fight, he says, that turned into a battle to protect the Catskills Preserve.
“I mean, we’re definitely exited but the reason why he withdrew his application was because of the social impacts,” says Morgan. “So is he now going to find a place where the people can’t fight back in the way that we fought back?”
Rojas says the company will look for a more suitable project location and file a new application. He told WAMC Monday that the Neversink and Rondout Reservoirs were a possibility. Catskill Mountainkeeper’s Nolan:
“That’s very worrisome because a large part of the objection to the proposal was the potential impact on the drinking water resource for over 9 million people,” says Nolan.
The New York City Department of Environmental Protection submitted comments opposing the project. Rojas says company officials will reach out to DEP first to discuss any other proposals as well as reach out to impacted communities, which they did not for the Ashokan proposal. Senator Hinchey says, “We hope that Premium Energy has learned their lesson and will be more thoughtful about the sites they choose going forward.”