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Oswego revokes Brookfield's right to post warning signs along Oswego River

Gino Geruntino
The Oswego Common Council removed Brookfield Renewable Power's right to post warning signs along a portion of the Oswego River.

The city of Oswego is taking the first step toward restoring peace and quiet to residents living near the Oswego River.

Last night, the Oswego Common Council voted unanimously to terminate an agreement with Brookfield Renewable Energy allowing the company to post warning signs. Brookfield also uses an alert system with sirens meant to warn fisherman about rising water levels near a dam that the company operates. Homeowners say the sirens are too loud and go off too frequently, including one resident who said he can't open his windows because of the frequent noise.

Just before the vote, Michael Todd, who represents the city's third ward and has been an outspoken supporter of the resolution, said the company had almost single-handedly killed Oswego's vibrant fishing tourism industry and is annoying residents.

"If you choose to go into the river to fish, that is your right," Todd said. "At no point ever, and I've read this agreement, did we authorize you to be the policing agency for the river. And we're going to make sure you don't have that ability after this evening."

In one of the more recent incidents involving Brookfield employees and fisherman was in the case of James Toy, who has fished in the Oswego River for 40 years. He says he was in the river outside of Brookfield's patrol zone when he was confronted by employees, one of which had a bullhorn.

He says the employee threatened him by saying other fishermen would not be allowed back into the water until he got out. But Toy refused because he says he was in a safe zone outside of their jurisdiction.

"I had grown men throwing softball-sized rocks at me... standing knee-deep in fast water," Toy said. "How many of you gentlemen would stand in that water long? In 40 years of fishing, I have never been put in a perilous situation, as to deal with 30 guys throwing rocks at me in fast moving water."

Other councilors spoke in support of the resolution. Fifth ward councilor William Barlow, Jr. says fishing is an important part of the city's economy.

Credit Gino Geruntino / WRVO
Councilman Michael Todd (third from right) was a main supporter of terminating the Brookfield resolution.

"I think most Oswegonians have that connection, whether it's fishing the river, walking the river," Barlow said. "It really was a vital part of our community, and you managed to really destroy something that was important to us."

Council President Ron Kaplewicz echoed the response.

"I used to fish this river 30 years ago, before Linear Park was here, and appreciated and enjoyed that fishing," Kaplewicz said. "The Linear Park brought folks in here by the thousands. I remember should to should the businesses flourished. Hotels and restaurants, gas stations and bars, and sports tackle businesses. And we have effectively decimated that part of our economy because of an unfortunate accident where two fishermen lost their lives."   

Jon Elmer, a representative of Erie Boulevard Hydropower, a subsidiary of Brookfield, said the company is working with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC, to reduce the sirens' noise and could submit a plan to address the issue Sept. 29.

"Brookfield would appreciate the city's patience while all parties work through this difficult process in a continued effort to ensure fishermen safety in as non-intrusive a way as possible for the surrounding community," Elmer said.

He noted that the company has come up with several ways to make the sirens less disrupting, and have hired an acoustical expert.

Among the options that Elmer says have been looked at are changing the directions of the speakers, eliminating or shortening the "whoop" sound used to grab anglers' attention, and lowering the volume of the sirens.

FERC regulates the alert system, while the city regulates the signs. City councilors say they hope revoking the agreement now can help Oswego rebuild its fishing tourism industry and quiet the sirens.

City makes plan to reduce debt to National Grid



The city also modified an agreement it made with Niagara Mohawk, which is now National Grid, two decades ago to help the city pay down an outstanding debt of millions of dollars it owes the company.

According to Common Council President Ron Kaplewicz, the 30-year contract allowed Oswego to get paid more for the electricity it was selling to National Grid than what it was worth.

But now he says the city is saddled with a massive bill that it has to pay before the contract ends.

"Over the years, as a matter of fact, the balance of that account as of December 31, 2013, and it's known as the adjustment account, has a positive balance in the amount of $11,530,591.93. And that's owed by the city to Niagara Mohawk."

Kaplewicz says by taking action now, the city is no longer kicking the can down the road for another administration to deal with. It also will end up saving the city money in the long-run, as the total amount due in ten years was estimated to be as high as $30 million.

The changes allow Oswego to make monthly payments to reduce the balance owed, and any additional revenue that would have been paid to the city by National Grid for electricity will also be applied to the account.

Councilor Eric VanBuren stressed that at no point will taxpayer dollars be used to pay down the debt.