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Home arrow Working with Section 106 arrow ACHP Case Digest arrow Spring 2002 arrow New York: Treatment of the Mechanicville Hydroelectric Plant
New York: Treatment of the Mechanicville Hydroelectric Plant

Agency: Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
The fate of the Mechanicville Hydroelectric Plant, possibly the only remaining pre-1900 facility with its original equipment intact, is currently being negotiated. In this case, a Federal agency accepted the license surrender from the current owner of this National-Register property prior to concluding Section 106 review—a possible foreclosure because the agency had determined that the proposed surrender would constitute an adverse effect. ACHP took the unprecedented step of filing a motion to intervene in this proceeding.

The Mechanicville Hydroelectric Plant includes a powerhouse, an earth embankment, a concrete non-overflow dam, and a 700-feet-long concrete gravity overflow dam. The plant was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1989 for its demonstration of exemplary significance in the fields of industry, architecture, and engineering. It is important in the development of hydroelectric generation because it may be the only remaining pre-1900 facility with its original equipment intact and was the longest continuously operating hydroelectric project in New York until operation ended in 1997.

The joint licensees for the property, Niagara Mohawk Power Corporation, which owns the plant, and Fourth Branch Associates, proposed to surrender their license to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Niagara Mohawk met with State agencies, including the New York State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO), regarding disposition and treatment of the historic property, but neither ACHP nor FERC attended the meetings.

In 2000, ACHP took the unprecedented step of filing a motion to intervene in the FERC proceeding. As an intervener, ACHP was ensured of receiving all project documentation during the proceeding, and could, if necessary, file for a rehearing.

In 2001, at FERC’s behest, Niagara Mohawk submitted a plan for the short and long term treatment of the project. ACHP, the SHPO, and Fourth Branch Associates provided comments on the plan. Fourth Branch Associates submitted a competing treatment plan for the project. That same year, FERC issued a Draft Environmental Assessment (EA) for review and comment. The draft EA included FERC’s finding that surrender of the license would be an adverse effect. The SHPO, ACHP, Niagara Mohawk and FBAM provided comments.

In February 2002, FERC issued an Order Accepting License Surrender for the Mechanicville Project. In the final EA, which was attached to the order, FERC found that surrender of the license would be an adverse effect. One of the conditions stipulated that Niagara Mohawk must, within 90 days of the order, prepare and file for FERC approval a plan and schedule to document the Mechanicville Project’s historic resources per Federal standards. Niagara Mohawk was to prepare the plan after consultation with the SHPO and ACHP.

In April 2002, Niagara Mohawk began consulting with the SHPO regarding the scope and content of the documentation effort in order to comply with FERC’s order. ACHP and Fourth Branch Associates filed for rehearing on the basis that Section 106 review has not been appropriately concluded. ACHP declined to participate formally in consultation with Niagara Mohawk because of FERC’s failure to correctly conclude Section 106 review.

The company plans to complete these responsibilities by December 2002. That next month, FERC issued an Order Granting Rehearing for Further Consideration for the Mechanicville project. FERC expects to issue an order on the merits of this proceeding soon.

In the meantime, Niagara Mohawk stated that according to the structural analysis that was recently completed for the project, safety is a real concern. A hard winter and the attendant ice could cause the hydroelectric plant’s dam to fail. To address this issue, Niagara Mohawk will fill the forebay and tailrace water passages with concrete to maintain and improve the structural stability of the powerhouse.

According to the company, it appears that the New York Canal Corporation will take ownership of the dam. The dam and powerhouse share walls, but the State agency does not want ownership of the powerhouse itself. A local developer is interested in using the former powerhouse as a restaurant and brew pub, and Niagara Mohawk says it is hopeful that information and displays about this historic property can be incorporated into the design.

Staff contact: Laura Henley Dean

Posted June 6, 2002

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