Controversy swirls over dam plans in Northern New York

Published: Jul. 27, 2020 at 3:59 PM EDT
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PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. (WCAX) - Controversy is swirling in Plattsburgh over what to do with the Imperial Mills Dam. Our Kelly O’Brien has both sides of the story.

Over the last several decades, it's been an upstream battle trying to figure out what to do with the Imperial Mills Dam on the Saranac River.

“We want to take the dam out,” said Don Lee with Trout Unlimited.

Local fishermen with Trout Unlimited say the dam blocks Atlantic salmon from getting to their natural spawning grounds upriver.

On July 17, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation announced a $6 million plan to bring the dam up to code and install a fish ladder to help the salmon swim upstream.

“We can have this completed and have this dam in compliance with dam safety regulations and have the ability to move salmon upstream in a few years,” said David Winchell of the New York Department of Environmental Conservation.

Trout Unlimited also says the dam was the cause of the ice jam that flooded out a Plattsburgh Mobile Home Park in January 2018-- another reason they want to see the dam completely removed from the river.

The DEC says it's better to keep the dam where it's at because it will cost four to five times the amount of money and would require federal permits to remove it.

"It won't accomplish everything that everyone wants because now that we saw the damage at the mobile home park and the possible loss of life there, and when everyone realizes this thing has been unsafe for a number of years and they haven't fixed it," Lee said.

A New York developer wants to team up with the former mill owner to produce hydropower that could be sold in the city after it’s fixed. Critics, including Mayor Colin Read, are unsure whether the dam would be capable of producing the hydropower and would rather see the dam removed altogether.

"There are so many problems with this proposal, I don't think anybody in their right mind could argue to preserve that dam," said Read, D-Plattsburgh.

The DEC has not yet announced a start date for the project but says they do plan to have it completed by 2023.

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