Yankee Ingenuity Alive and Well in Upper New York State

Posted: 11/12/2001
by Carla Miner

In October John Gangemi and Kevin Colburn, American Whitewater staff, toured a series of hydropower projects in and around Adirondack State Park in New York. In the span of nine-days nine hydropower projects encompassing seventeen dams were visited. Five of these projects four of which contain multiple dams are currently going through the relicensing process. American Whitewater is actively engaged in these relicense proceedings fighting to restore whitewater flows to dewatered reaches, access and publicly accessible real-time flow information.

"I've long awaited an opportunity to paddle in upper New York ever since Chris Koll spilled the goods on the whitewater treasures of the Adirondacks [1]," claimed Gangemi. "But he didn't prepare me for the preponderance of dams. Chalk it up to that Yankee ingenuity harnessing work out of every stream."

The drought conditions limited paddling opportunities to the weekend whitewater releases on the Bottom Moose. According to Colburn, "I ran lots of imaginary lines on what look like some classic NY creeks. This place is awesome. The creeks are everything you want and the aesthetics are outrageous."

The drought conditions were more a blessing than a curse since their tightly packed schedule did not allow much room to get wet on some of New York's finest. In addition to meeting with utilities for several of the hydropower projects, Gangemi and Colburn also met with boaters in Plattsburgh and Lake Placid on consecutive nights to explain the hydropower licensing process occurring on some nearby rivers as well as American Whitewater?s role in the process. Clearly, American Whitewater has some work to do restoring rivers in New York. Success on these rivers will require dedicated local boaters with knowledge of these whitewater resources willing to assist American Whitewater in the relicense process. If you would like to assist in any of the projects listed below contact John Gangemi, jgangemi@digisys.net or Kevin Colburn, Kevin@AMWhitewater.org.

Partial list of New York rivers where American Whitewater is actively engaged in hydropower relicense proceedings.

Hoosic River: Located ten minutes north of Albany in the town of Schaghticoke. The Hoosic contains a gorge dropping 146 feet in just under two miles. The hydropower project capitalizes on this same gradient diverting water around the gorge to a powerhouse downstream. Few boaters in the Albany area are even aware this resource exists because boating flows rarely occur. American Whitewater is working closely with the utility on this relicense proceeding. Visit www.geocities.com/brabetz13/index.html for photos of the Hoosic.

Oswegatchie River: American Whitewater staff attended a site visit with FERC staff from Washington DC in October. This relicense contains two hydro projects encompassing four dams. The project is located just outside Hailesboro, New York. The dams dewater the Island branch, a seven-mile braid of the Oswegatchie that contains at least one twelve-foot waterfall. Another section contains a great looking play hole downstream of the Fowler powerhouse. American Whitewater filed written comments in early November on this project. American Whitewater is looking for local boaters to work with us to restore flows, access and flow information on the Oswegatchie. Visit the photo archive for pictures of the Oswegatchie http://www.americanwhitewater.org/photos/?photoid=1027 and http://www.americanwhitewater.org/photos/?photoid=1028.
Ausable River: New York State Gas and Electric (NYSEG) is relicensing the Rainbow Falls hydroelectric project on the Ausable River. American Whitewater has pushed hard for access to the Ausable River in this proceeding because it is the start of the Class IV Ausable Chasm. The downstream property owner, Ausable Chasm Company (ACC), doesn?t want boaters in the Chasm claiming that it will impact their private business. During the whitewater flow study in May 2001, an ACC representative falsely stated that boaters could not get out of their boats to scout individual rapids in the Chasm. Six out of twelve boaters declined to participate under those conditions. Under New York state navigability laws, boaters do have the right to get out and scout or portage up to the high water mark. The November 1 and 2, 2001 scoping meeting and site visit was well attended by local boaters thanks to American Whitewater?s organizing efforts. This is a hotly contested proceeding that could potentially set a precedent thereby threatening access on more than just the Ausable.

Saranac River: NYSEG is also relicensing four dams on the Saranac River just outside of Plattsburgh. From the looks of the geology, the Saranac probably contained some great whitewater paddling aesthetically comparable to the Ausable Chasm prior to dam construction. All that remains within the hydropower project for whitewater is a short bedrock section below Kent Falls Dam and a stiff two mile (?) Class V-VI section below High Falls Dam. This proceeding is just getting underway. American Whitewater is looking for some dedicated boaters to assist with this relicense proceeding. Visit the photo archive for pictures of the Saranac. http://www.americanwhitewater.org/photos/?photoid=1029, http://www.americanwhitewater.org/photos/?photoid=1030, http://www.americanwhitewater.org/photos/?photoid=1031 and http://www.americanwhitewater.org/photos/?photoid=1032.

Racquette River: The Piercefield Hydro Power Project influences flows on about a ten-mile section of the Racquette River. The powerhouse is located at the dam. The lake formed by Piercefield Dam (located in the town of Piercefield) appears to have considerable water storage. The downstream river contains distinct sections for Class III and Class IV-V paddling. Contact Kevin Colburn if you have information about these whitewater resources or would like to assist with this proceeding.

St. Regis River: American Whitewater recently signed a settlement agreement with Erie (aka Orion Power, formerly Niagara Mohawk) for the licensing of this hydropower project. The settlement grants public access to the reach as well as release of flow information. Visit the photo archive for pictures of the St Regis http://www.americanwhitewater.org/photos/?photoid=1033.

[1] Chris Koll, Sept./Oct. 2000. New York - The Whitewater State American Whitewater Journal, Volume XL No. 5, page 56-74.