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Croghan dam supporters seeking private partner for rehab effort

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CROGHAN — With the new year comes renewed hope for redevelopment of the small dam here.

However, the Lewis County Development Corp. likely will need to find a private partner to see the project through to completion.

“That really is the key,” said Glen A. Gagnier, a Lewis County Development Corp. member and former village mayor who is spearheading the dam project.

Officials are particularly seeking out firms that are woman- or minority-owned, either to research the hydro development possibilities at the site or to partner in the redevelopment effort, since a $375,000 state grant awarded one year ago requires some participation by such a company, Mr. Gagnier said.

“You’ve got to meet these requirements or you don’t get the money,” he said.

That search is being spearheaded by the Development Authority of the North Country, which entered a partnership in August with the Lewis County group with hopes that alternative technologies will make hydroelectric generation at the small, two-section dam feasible, Mr. Gagnier said.

DANC, which also has offered up to $70,000 as a local match for the state funds, would consider bonding the project and seeing it through to completion if a profitable business model could be developed, he said.

While the nonprofit corporation might be able to rehabilitate the facility itself, partnering with a private development firm would not only add expertise, but improve the chances of future grant funding for the project, Mr. Gagnier said.

“That would be ideal,” he said.

While still in the early stages of the search, Mr. Gagnier said, he and other dam supporters continue to receive tips on companies that might be interested in the project.

“I’ve contacted companies from as far away as Italy,” he said.

Tug Hill Commission officials also have been helpful in furthering the redevelopment effort, Mr. Gagnier said.

“They keep their ear to the ground for us,” he said.

The dam initiative has been designated as an “other regionally significant priority” by the North Country Regional Economic Development Council, and the corporation has received a preliminary permit from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to give it first option on hydro development at the site for the next three years, according to Mr. Gagnier.

While a corporation-commissioned study by Gomez & Sullivan Engineers, Utica, included the general design of a revamped dam with an opening for a hydroelectric generation unit, plans are to hold off on final design work and permit acquisition until a private company can come in and determine exactly what the project should entail, he said.

Mr. Gagnier noted that officials from a hydropower company who had expressed interest earlier in the year were considering generators that would have been too large for the proposed opening in the Gomez & Sullivan study and thus would have required design changes.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation had targeted the small concrete dam for demolition for several years because of its designation as a high-risk hazard.

However, state officials in 2012 lowered its risk classification, primarily because of preliminary results from the study, which is being funded through a federal grant and donations from local municipalities, businesses and individuals.

The dam, built in 1918 to replace earlier wooden ones, first was deemed unsafe by the Army Corps of Engineers in 1981. DEC commenced an enforcement action in November 2010 against the dam’s owners, which include the Croghan Island Mill, Vaughn E. Zehr and Beaverite Products Corp.

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