State And Utility Agree On Salmon River Protection

Attorney General Spitzer and Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner John Cahill today announced that Niagara Mohawk Power Corporation has entered into an agreement with the state that will result in added protections for a portion of the Salmon River damaged by the utility when it was repairing one of its hydro-electric dams in Franklin County.

In the fall of 1997, Niagara Mohawk lowered the water level behind its Chasm Falls Dam-- five miles south of Malone -- to perform maintenance work. Over a two-month period, the company discharged water, heavily laden with sediment into the Salmon River. This discharge smothered seven miles of river bottom under an estimated 14,000 cubic yards of sand (about 700 truck loads), damaging wild trout spawning grounds.

Under terms of the agreement with the state, Niagara Mohawk will pay a $50,000 penalty and spend $300,000 for investigatory and restoration work in the Salmon River. The results of Niagara Mohawk's research will assist the state in deciding how to best manage sediment deposits building up behind dams. A work plan for Niagara Mohawk's research and restoration has been approved by the state.

"The Salmon River is a magnificent natural resource that has provided countless recreational opportunities for the people of New York," said Spitzer. "Unfortunately, the sediment release severely damaged a section of the river. This innovative agreement provides a first-of-its-kind study for impounding river systems in New York and I am hopeful that it will help prevent similar problems in the future."

DEC Commissioner John Cahill said: "This agreement helps put the Salmon River on the road to recovery. We're pleased that we have been able to partner with the Attorney General's Office to hold those who would harm our environment responsible for their actions."

Soon after the damage was identified in 1997, local government officials from Malone and representatives of the conservation group Trout Unlimited contacted the state about the potential impacts to fishing. Malone officials explained that this section of the Salmon River generates significant revenue for the local economy from anglers who travel to the area to fish.

Trout Unlimited hailed the agreement between the state and Niagara Mohawk.

"We're very pleased with this agreement," said Tim Damon, President of the St. Lawrence Valley Chapter of Trout Unlimited. "The study of how to manage sediment build-up behind dams will help insure that another incident like the one at Chasm Falls Dam never happens again in New York. We thank the Attorney General, DEC and Niagara Mohawk for taking such an innovative action."

The agreement between the state and Niagara Mohawk was filed today by the Attorney General's office in Franklin County Supreme Court.

Niagara Mohawk sold the Chasm Falls Dam to Erie Boulevard Hydro Power in June 1999. But under terms of its agreement with the state, Niagara Mohawk is responsible for the work and the dam's new owner is obligated to provide all necessary access to the site.

The case was handled by Assistant Attorney General David Munro and Scientist Alan Belensz of the Environmental Protection Bureau and by DEC staff at the agency's regional office in Ray Brook.