OSWEGO, NY – The Common Council voted Monday night to revoke Brookfield Renewable Energy’s authority to police a certain area of the Oswego River near the Varick Dam.
In late November 2011, the mayor was authorized to execute an enforcement authorization agreement with Brookfield Renewable Energy Group (Erie Boulevard Hydropower LP) regarding real property located on the Oswego River.
The deal contains a termination clause that permits either party to terminate the pact upon a 30 day written notice to the other party.
At Monday night’s council meeting, Mayor Tom Gillen was authorized, on behalf of the city, to notify Erie in writing of the city’s intent to end the agreement in 30 days.
According to the council, Erie has consistently taken actions against fishermen in the Oswego River that exceeded the authority granted in the enforcement authorization agreement.
Such actions are “detrimental and injurious to the commerce in the city relating to the fishing industry,” councilors said.
Erie’s fisherman alert system is in excess of that which is necessary to alert anglers of changes in the water level in the river and is disruptive to the peace and tranquility of city residents.
Councilor Mike Todd pointed out that despite numerous requests over the years, Erie has failed and refused to change its system so that it is less disruptive to area residents.
During the public session, city resident James Toy said the city never should have given “a foreign company the responsibility of policing one of the best natural fisheries in the world.”
Not even Harborfest can compare with the number of people who used to come into Oswego with the sole purpose of fishing, he told the councilors.
Everybody is going to Pulaski instead of Oswego, he said. Years ago, there would be 500 fishermen in the river who spend money locally, he added.
He related a recent experience he had while fishing in a section of river not under the company’s jurisdiction.
Fishermen were ordered out of the water; since he wasn’t in the danger zone, he continued fishing. When he still refused to comply with the company’s order to leave, he was told if he didn’t leave, they wouldn’t allow the others to return to the water.
“I left for fear of my own life,” he said. Some of the other fishermen began throwing softball-size rocks at him trying to get him to comply, he said.
An East Second Street resident agreed the sirens were a nuisance and, he added the warning lights at night are so bright he has to keep his curtains closed.
“I agree you need safety. But these people are getting crazy about safety,” he said of Brookfield. “You need to be safe. But you can’t be ridiculous at the same time. I don’t deserve to be punished for nonsense.”
According to a letter by Steven P. Murphy, licensing manager for Brookfield, the company is implementing some changes and improvements.
ATI Systems, an acoustical expert hired by the company, made the following recommendations:
- Change the direction of the speakers
- Modify the existing speakers to operate at a lower wattage
- Build a speaker mount that will reach over the building and walkway bridge
- Shorten the duration of the alert tone to no more than five seconds
- Implementing a recommended activation sequence to reduce the overall duration
- Use a single frequency tone instead of frequency varying tone
Subject to Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approval, Brookfield is prepared to implement these changes and to further evaluate the effectiveness of these options in the field, Murphy said.
“Brookfield is targeting a Sept. 29 submittal to FERC requesting approval of the proposed modifications to the existing Fishermen Alert System,” he continued. “Brookfield would appreciate the city’s patience while all parties work through this difficult process in a continued effort to ensure fishermen safety in as non-intrusive a way as possible for the surrounding community.”
The plan doesn’t come right out and say they will change anything, only evaluate, Todd said.
“We have tried unsuccessfully for two and a half years to negotiate with you on this. It is only now, tonight, that you want to talk with us,” with a vote looming by the council, Todd said to a smattering of applause from the audience. “At no point did we authorize you to be the policing agency for the river. And, we’re going to make sure you don’t have that after this evening. If this continues, the next thing I’ll bring to committee is an RFP to seek alternate bids to operate Varick Dam. The only reason you’re here tonight at the table is you’re afraid we’re going to take that away. And we are going to take that away. Nothing that goes on in this city should take two and a half years.”
“I don’t want to reduce the noise. I want to reduce it, I want to eliminate it,” Council President Ron Kaplewicz said. “I want people along this river to be able to open their window in the spring and the summer and open their blinds to enjoy the beauty that this river has.”
When the linear park was created it brought people (and fishermen) to the city by the thousands and businesses flourished, he added.
“We have effectively decimated that part of our economy,” he pointed out. “We don’t have the same system on the Salmon River.”
It is probably possible to create an app for cell phones that would alert fishermen, he said, adding that 90 percent of anglers have one with them.
The city needs to rebuild its fishing industry, Kaplewicz said.
VanBuren agreed with both councilors. He has heard complaints for years from his constituents every time the sirens go off, he said.
Changes have to go through FERC, he said. And it’s never a fast process, but more than two years was too long, he added.
Some measures have been taken that have greatly increased the safety in the river, he said.