July 24, 2007
By Dan Hust
MONGAUP VALLEY - Two years of drained water, resources and hopes ended triumphantly on Saturday, when Alliance Energy Renewables reopened public access to the Swinging Bridge Reservoir.
Sullivan County's largest public boating lake had been closed since May 2005 while engineers repaired a large sinkhole in the reservoir's dam.
In the interim, Alliance bought the property from a bankrupt Mirant (plus the Toronto, Mongaup Falls and Rio reservoirs) and set about accelerating the timetable.
"Alliance kept their promise," remarked a jubilant Bill Croissant, whose Swinging Bridge Marina hosted Saturday's reopening celebration. "They did it very speedily ... [because] they really had the manpower and the knowledge."
Croissant's marina was one of two businesses harshly impacted by the drawdown of water from their main source of income, although he managed to survive by taking his services to other boating lakes in the area (and helping Mirant remove old tree stumps that had accumulated near the dam).
He had eagerly awaited the reservoir's reopening, though Mirant hadn't guaranteed anything earlier than September 9.
Then along came Alliance, and that date was shoved ahead to August 1.
Thanks to repair workers' efforts, however, July 21 turned out to be the big day.
Croissant, though, said it will be a while before business is back to normal.
"It will probably take us four or five years," he remarked of the days when he easily rented up to 100 boat slips and handled dozens of calls a day.
"But we're back home doing business."
Alliance was happy to be back in business too, as this arm of the energy company was specifically formed to turn Mirant's former Mongaup holdings into a profitable enterprise once again.
Thousands of dollars have been spent not only on Swinging Bridge's dam but on hydroelectric facilities at the Mongaup Falls Reservoir, said Regional Director of Operations and New Development Joseph Klimaszewski, Jr.
"And we plan millions in [infrastructure] investments" over the next few years, he added. "This is a resource for generating electricity," agreed Alliance spokesperson Jane Rubinstein, pointing out Swinging Bridge's longtime reason for existence.
Klimaszewski said Swinging Bridge itself can generate 31 megawatts of electricity but has been averaging less than half that in recent years.
Once some final tests on the dam are complete - and the water level rises around 14 feet to its historic mark of 1,070 feet above sea level - he's hopeful Alliance will see Swinging Bridge become a fully active part of Alliance's major investment.
In the meantime, he's just happy the public and lakeshore residents some of whom had their assessments lowered after the reservoir was reduced to a stream can reap the benefits of a much-loved local natural resource.
"We're so excited to be opening this," he remarked while standing on Swinging Bridge's sunny shore. "It's all been about the lake, reopening the reservoir and getting people back." Alliance scored high with the public on Saturday, as people took to the water and the free hamburgers and hot dogs it offered.
Whether the company can keep that momentum going will hinge in part on how an upcoming tax battle evolves.
Alliance bought the property for more than $20 million less than its assessed value, and it has already made efforts to reduce its assessment by 90 percent in the four townships - Thompson, Bethel, Lumberland and Forestburgh - and the two school districts - Monticello and Eldred - it owns property in.
Klimaszewski wouldn't discuss strategy, but he was firm in his optimism. "We're going to pay taxes," he assured. "This is going to be worked out... We're certainly willing to talk."