The company behind a proposed hydroelectric project using the Ashokan Reservoir in the Catskills is scrapping the proposal after strong opposition. Instead, the company will start anew, looking at other reservoirs in the New York City watershed to site its energy project. WAMC’s Hudson Valley Bureau Chief Allison Dunne spoke with the president of Power-Tech Engineers Monday afternoon, minutes after he submitted a formal letter of withdrawal.
President of California-based Power-Tech Engineers Victor Rojas says he sent a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission withdrawing a proposed pumped storage project that faced massive opposition. The proposal from affiliate company Premium Energy Holdings sought to generate hydroelectric power by drawing from the Ashokan Reservoir and creating a new dam and reservoir. The public comment period closed at 5 p.m. Local elected officials, environmentalists and area residents say the company did not do any outreach, a mistake Rojas says he won’t make again.
“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. And once we have something that is more acceptable to the stakeholders, then moving to an application to FERC, a new application to FERC,” Rojas says. “The scheme that we have proposed initially impacted very badly some communities and, even though we were changing our plans after we hear their concerns, there was still a lot of nervousness around. And we started to maybe say, better to give a little peace to the community to. to withdraw the, the application. And then, like I said, start, start from zero again with something that is, that we have the buy-in of the community first before we move forward with an application.”
“We have formally withdraw the application through a letter to FERC,” Rojas says.
“That you sent today,” says Dunne.
“Yeah, we sent today like maybe half an hour ago,” says Rojas.
Rojas says he considered filing an amendment proposing new locations, but decided that, with all the opposition, a complete withdrawal made the most sense.
“So we say, wait a minute, maybe it’s better just to withdraw this and start from fresh again, and maybe have a different approach this time,” Rojas says.
”Yeah, because people were very upset here that they weren't notified, you know, from anyone from, from you or your company about what was happening, no public outreach. And while that may not have been a requirement based on the size of communities, they certainly took umbrage to the fact that they weren’t contacted,” Dunne says.
“Yeah, we did publish, we published an announcement in a local newspaper, I don’t know which, but that was, that’s part of the FERC rules for the application. But doesn’t, sometimes it's not as effective as maybe out-reaching specific communities and, and you know, and just letting letting, letting them know that they. that we have this plan in mind,” says Rojas. “So next time around, we want to be just outreaching specific communities regardless of the size, and make sure that they are all on board with this plan so that they, there are not surprises.”
“Do you have a timeline for when you might begin this outreach and propose another project?” Dunne asks.
“Maybe within a month we'll be touching doors again, again, and maybe outreach in the community,” says Rojas. “First, we need to talk to the owners, which is the City of New York. And then we'll have to touch bases with the communities. and then moving forward with the application. So anyway, we’re, we’re, we’re making sure this time goes smooth, smoother than this one, this experience.”
By city of New York he refers to the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, which had submitted comments opposing the project, saying the company's request for a preliminary permit should be denied outright because it is not in the public interest and not compatible with the city's operation of an unfiltered drinking water supply. DEP said the proposed hydropower facility would harm water quality at the Ashokan Reservoir. Rojas says the new proposal might include the Neversink and Rondout reservoirs.
“And the only concern is that we like to make it a closed loop so that the turbidity, the quality of the water is not affected. So we're, we’re trying to come out with something to, some solutions, some engineering solutions to, to present to New York City to make sure that their concerns over affecting the quality of the water is, has been taken care and, of course, with no impact to any community, just making sure that nothing is upset in terms of housing or property of people,” Rojas says. “Everything is underground, even the station is going to be underground. So, so we tried to, to minimize to avoid any, any impact on the environment or community, no? Per se. So anyway, we have to do our homework. And that, yeah, that's a possibility. not, not, we're not sure at this time that this is going to be that. There is a couple of others, alternatives that we like to look here first very carefully and once we are comfortable that they are safe and sound and, and they’re not going to upset the community, then we like to present it to, first to New York City, environmental office, and then moving forward with an application.”
Hundreds of comments opposing the initial proposal poured in to FERC over the past several weeks. In general, they say the project would cause irreparable harm to the region, to drinking water, protected lands, residential neighborhoods, stream ecology and the Catskills tourism economy.