OSWEGO, NY – In the fall of 2011, Brookfield Renewable Power implemented enhanced safety tools and warnings for anglers who recreate on or near the company’s Varick Hydropower Dam on the Oswego River. These new tools and warnings supplement the already existing system of warnings, which included signage and a Fishermen’s Alert System, among other features.
However, one safety feature in particular is causing a headache for residents and councilors alike – the sirens.
At Monday night’s meeting of the Administrative Services Committee, Councilor Mike Todd said it time for the city to act on the citizens’ complaints about the warning sirens used by Brookfield to alert anglers to rising water in the Oswego River.
“It’s about time someone actually makes a decision on this. Evidently, this weekend, they were out there with bullhorns getting people out of the river, fishing where they were legally allowed to fish, because they didn’t want them in there,” he said Monday night.
He proposed a resolution removing the authorization the city granted the power company a few years ago to post the entire section of river and instruct the police department to enforce the noise ordinance (regarding the sirens).
“Maybe that will force (Brookfield) to do something to negotiate this. I’d like to see that come forward as a resolution for Monday night (at the full council),” he said. “Anyone else tired of dealing with this?”
The city has been trying to work out a resolution to this issue for several years now, council vice president Eric VanBuren agreed.
Brookfield is regulated by the FERC, the Federal Energy Regulation Commission. It’s a federal agency. Their sirens operate under a separate jurisdiction from local and state municipal law, he pointed out.
“So, we can’t actually enforce the noise limit … we can’t hit them with a duration limit or send our police down there to fine or ticket the company or a representative of that company for the sirens,” VanBuren said. “That’s our first hurdle and probably the hardest one to overcome. The FERC has to give them the recommendations for what they can operate within.”
He and the mayor spent a lot of time trying to facilitate a meeting with Brookfield and then they found out that FERC was really who they needed to talk to, he added.
They finally met with a FERC representative and he re-wrote recommendations for what Brookfield should be doing with the sirens.
Brookfield has to comply with that, he said, but added, “We can’t make them move any faster than FERC is going to allow them (to move). If FERC says they can take a year and a half to get a sound study done, they can take a year and a half to get sound study done.”
“My argument would be that, A – we could take away their permission to enforce any part of that river out by removing the posted signs; and two, sometimes you move quicker because everybody in this room is pretty interested in federal and state government moving in such an expeditious way, they usually listen to their constituents about what they want – so maybe if you put them in court, maybe if you failed to respond to anything they needed like trespassing, maybe it would be in their better interest to move a little quicker,” Todd said. “Maybe we should stop trying to bend over backwards and discuss this with them and just do something right, wrong or indifferent and then let it fight out, that’s what we got attorneys for. And, maybe we can make them move quicker.”
VanBuren said he agreed with Todd in that Brookfield’s actions have had a negative impact on the local fishing and those businesses that cater to fishermen.
“They have certainly been overstepping their bounds as to what they are policing down there,” VanBuren added.
He said he’s all for doing whatever he can to rejuvenate the river fishing; but regardless of what the council does it won’t bring Brookfield to the table any faster about the sirens.
“I am more than happy and supportive of changing how they are in charge of that portion of the river. But, just know that the siren aspect of it, may not be affected the way we want it to,” VanBuren said.
“We’re all sick and tired of waking up at 6:30 or 7 o’clock in the morning and hearing the ‘whoop’ coming from the river, the sirens, starting in the morning right through when it gets dark. It can come at any time,” council president Ron Kaplewicz said. “And, usually when it does happen, I’ll get a phone call or two from folks who live along the river.”
One woman in particular reminds the councilor that she has tenants that work at Novelis and at the nuclear plants, working 12-hour shifts, and they can’t get any rest because of the sirens going off at all hours, Kaplewicz continued.
It was about three years ago that the council passed a resolution granting Brookfield authorization to post city property (along the river) and provide enforcement pursuant to the guidelines at that time, which came about after discussions on how to improve safety in the area following the drowning deaths of two fishermen in the fall of 2010, he pointed out.
“Personally, I think we’ve taken this way too far,” he said. “I understand the liability issue, I’m sure that’s what Brookfield is looking at. The city also has to look at that. The consequences have been severe on many businesses. We have shot ourselves in the foot with respect to the fishery and tourism industry that goes along with it.”
In the previous resolution, he said there was an option for the city to opt out.
“This is simple. We bring it forward next Monday. We put if for a resolution and we take it off. Everybody’s in favor of that,” Todd said. “I’ll make a motion to do it now. Stop talking about it. We’ve talked about it for three years. You can talk this thing to death. Just do it. Take it away from them and see where it goes.”
The committee unanimously approved sending the matter to the full council for consideration next week.