The Village of Swanton is planning to upgrade an old dam to generate hydroelectric power, but the state's Agency of Natural Resources says it can't support the plan without getting answers to some key environmental questions.
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Swanton Village Manager Reg Beliveau says the village isn't ignoring the environmental studies the state has wanted since 2011 when a similar project was proposed – and he says there's good reason the village hasn't done the studies yet.
“Cost prohibitive,” Beliveau says. “I mean, these studies were just exorbitant.”
Beliveau says the village does plan to get answers for the state.
“The plan was to do these studies as soon as we can find an investor to help defray the cost,” Beliveau said.
He says the village found that investment through a partnership with North Bennington hydro developer Bill Scully.
But Beliveau has another concern: He's worried that what the state really wants isn't answers, but for the renovation project to fail and the dam to be removed.
"It almost feels like, you know, 'You're a small municipality. We don't really care about what you think. We're a state agency and we know what's good for you,'" Beliveau said of the state’s position regarding the renovation.
“They could throw anything at us I guess, and just cripple us,” he said. “And that’s what I’m afraid is happening. I mean, I couldn’t tell you how many people from the press and different agencies have been bombarding this office.”
Beliveau says that despite public pressure to have the dam removed, the majority in the community wants the dam to stay, and it’s his job to make that happen.
Natural Resources Secretary Deb Markowitz says her agency isn't for or against the project, even though the agency's filings with federal energy regulators this month pointed out numerous problems with the proposed renovation.
She says her agency simply needs more information before the environmental implications of the proposal are clear.
“We don't pre-judge applications,” she said. “The purpose of this filing was to put the parties on notice that we have significant concerns about this application and that we don't at this point, without more evidence, see that it could meet the requirements of the Clean Water Act.”
Federal energy regulators have yet to make a preliminary decision about the project. If the village gets the preliminary permit from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the project would still need to get multiple state-level approvals.