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High and dry

Shore owners caught off guard as hydro company lowers Union Falls Pond to repair century-old dam

A motorboat sits on the rocky bed of Union Falls Pond after the company that owns the dam there lowered the lake level to repair the structure. (Photo provided — Jim Davis)

UNION FALLS — Boat owners on Union Falls Pond found their boats high and dry earlier this week as the company that owns the Union Falls dam lowered the lake level to do repairs to the more-than-century-old structure.

Beth Davis, an AuSable Forks resident who has a site at McIntyre’s Campsite on Union Falls Pond, said she and many others were shocked to find their boats sitting on shore after Kruger Inc., a Canadian company that owns the power-producing dam, lowered the lake level to do work on the downstream side of the structure.

“The work being done on the Union Falls Dam includes an inspection of the face of the spillway and repairs on the right side of the spillway (looking upstream),” Kruger spokesperson Paule Veilleux-Turcotte wrote. “The work started the last week of August with a target completion date of Sept. 16, weather permitting.”

Although Davis said boat owners were given no notice of the impending water drop, Veilleux-Turcotte wrote that notice had been given to the owners of McIntyre’s Campground, Randall and Kathleen Haner.

Randall Haner said he was given a general notice that some work might be done on the dam in late August or September, but got no further details than that.

A motorboat sits on the rocky bed of Union Falls Pond after the company that owns the dam there lowered the lake level to repair the structure. (Photo provided — Jim Davis)

“It would have been great if we got 30 days’ notice,” he said. “They assume you can just pull your boat out on a whim, but these are summer homes. People live five, seven hours away.

“It’s just a series of unfortunate things strung together.”

Kruger — which owns numerous hydroelectric dams in the U.S. and operates them under the name KEI — said the level of the lake was brought down to 12 inches below the top of the dam, and that the water level would be brought back to normal “as soon [as] possible after the work is completed.”

Davis confirmed Wednesday that the lake level was beginning to rise. She also said that while her pontoon boat was high and dry, there didn’t seem to be any damage to the vessel.

Union Falls Pond is actually a dammed part of the Saranac River. The dam was built in 1907 by the Paul Smith’s Electric Company, and due to its power-producing nature, the dam is regulated by both state and federal agencies.

The Union Falls dam is undergoing repair work on its downstream side this week, causing a drop in water levels. (Photo provided — Jim Davis)

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission oversees hydroelectric dams, but the state Department of Environmental Conservation said the federal permits require KEI to get consent from DEC before lowering the lake level. The company got the required permits from both agencies, according to a DEC spokesperson.

“The power company agreed to draw the impoundment down slowly, and refill slowly once the project was complete,” a DEC spokesperson wrote in an email. “They also agreed to take steps to have staff on site to release flows in case of an emergency during construction and to keep the draw-down to within 10-12 inches of dam crest. According to the company, this amount of draw-down is necessary in order to ensure worker safety.”

The DEC said that in all cases, dam safety is a priority, and that “requests to draw-down impoundments for inspections and dam repair work are common and routine.”

However, the department also said that there was no DEC requirement to notify shore owners.

“In this case, the WQC [Water Quality Certification] for the project was issued by DEC in 1984,” the DEC said. “Public notice occurs at the time of licensing.”

KEI is involved in sustainable energy production and owns hydroelectric stations as well as solar, wind and biomass assets. Locally, KEI owns and operates not just Union Falls dam but also Emeryville Hydro in St. Lawrence County, Upper and Middle Greenwich dams in Washington County and three dams named Lyons Falls in Lyonsdale and Lyons Falls.