Wednesday, April 8, 2009

That Dam Wang Agreement

Last night, Lynnda Ignacio and Paul Belley of the Pawtucketville Citizens' Council presented at the UML discussion series hosted by Prof. Bill Berkowitz.

Speaking with great technical detail, stark photo evidence and some compelling personal anecdotes (including stories of residents who exhibit PTSD-like symptoms when it rains, and a family who moved to the top of a hill in New Hampshire to avoid future inundations), they explained how a natural problem is being exacerbated by mismanagement of the flashboards in the river.

According to the Wang Agreement, penned in 1980 (of which I've now got a hard copy, thanks to PCC), during the months of March, April, May, and June, 4-foot flashboards "which will fail to hold back water if the river rises one (1) foot above the level of the Structure" are authorized for placement at the Pawtucket Dam. (From July to February, 5-foot flashboards are called for).

The major grievance that PCC has with Enel North America is that they feel the Wang Agreement is being more honored in the breach than in the observance. This grievance is supported by their evidence from 2006 and 2007, in which the flashboards didn't fail and their neighborhoods were subsequently flooded. In their view, the desires of the hydropower company to maintain a higher water table for economic reasons are putting their neighborhoods at risk.

The palpable fear among the PCC residents who spoke was that one more terrible flood would ruin the character of their neighborhoods...all spoke about the high levels of social capital and community trust that could vaporize if families -- including some who had been living in the same homes for decades -- were to leave in frustration. As to the charge that they "should have known better" than to move to a flood plain, their responses are that: a) that information wasn't necessarily available to homebuyers at the time of purchase; and that b) the trend of major flooding had been truly rare, not something to be expected year after year.

At the next City Council meeting -- Tuesday, 14 April, a motion will be presented before the Council that would require Enel to abide by the Wang Agreement.

But here's the problem: Even if the Council supports the motion, how will it be enforced? Since, by agreement with Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Enel builds and maintains the flashboards, what independent monitoring mechanism will be used to ensure the spirit and letter of Wang are being upheld?

This will be an interesting one to watch.

3 comments:

smasse said...

As some one who has been involved in the flood neighborhoods issues over the last 3 years, I believe that now is the time for action by our government for the protection of the general public and those within the flood plain. I believe that our local government has the legal precedent to take the Pawtucket Dam and its structures, canals and hydro power facility by eminent domain. Eminent domain law is set up perfectly to solve issues such as those caused by a private for-profit enterprise using public resources to the detriment of the public for profit generation.
Now, I am not against profit generation and risk-taking by industry, this is what made America great. However, there is no public good to the residents of Lowell from this hydro plant other than payment of taxes on the buildings/structures. Lowell residents see no benefit on their home electric bills. They get no discounts. They get no subsidy from a public resource that is used for private purpose. Now, this of itself may not seem wholely bad, but not when looked at in light of the damage and danger those in the flood plain endure( and pay for) with no recourse from those putting them in the path of said danger.
Boott Hydro keeps the pins higher in strength than allowed by the Federal agency governing them to keep the waters behind the dam higher, longer, without releasing spring floods and rains and snow melt as quickly...The result: Hundreds of thousands of dollars of flooding and ruined basements and heating systems with not even ONE LOUSY STINKIN" DIME being offered by the company at least partially to blame for the extent of the damage. If the boards released quicker, easier, then the 2006 and 2007 floods may have affected fewer people in the flood prone areas. No one said Boott caused the floods...but , stronger pins certainly allowed a longer period of river level build-up before release..in fact, many pins didn't bend even after these two major floods with 6-8 feet topping the wood flashboards that were supposed to fail at 1(one) foot top-over!...so, to Mr. Lynch and more specifically, to the City Council, the true managers of the City: Let us now consider eminent domain on this dam. A managment company can be hired for daily running of plant facilities, most of which are fairly simple. Then put all profits back into a straight subsidy for all electric bills of Lowells residents. At the same time, fund a reserve to help those who flood out from time to time, to keep them in the houses they grew up in and wish to retire in...The City has taken blighted warehouses on Bridge St., blighted mills on Jackson St. in the name of recreation and commercial development. As a matter of fact, the City now owns the rights to the hydro plant at the old Jackson St. mill properties. The City must find a way to properly use these facilities, why not add Boott Hydro Inc and Enel Corp. to the equation, and put an end forever to mismanagement and flooding at the Pawtucket Dam.
Put an end forever to talk of removing the historic wood flashboards to replace with hulking metal bladder type flashboards. And use the resource justly for the people of the City of Lowell!

The New Englander said...

Smasse,

Thanks for laying all that out -- that's a lot more than I knew previously and a proposed answer that could get us beyond the legal-ese of what exactly it means to "maintain" a floodboard as per the Wang Agreement. Looking forward to seeing how things unfold with this..

best,
gp

kevin said...

What was the outcome of the motion?