Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Dam it

It’s hard to consider the furtive Hudson River-Black River Regulating District a "regulating agency" as the state public benefit corporation's name might suggest. It's also hard to call them a public benefit corporation, when seldom if ever do they act to benefit the public. Lawlessly debauched overlords maybe, mindless despotic bureaucrats perhaps, but regulators, definitely not.

For more than a decade, this agency has served as a quasi-fiefdom that has been a dumping ground for the politically unclean of the Pataki Administration. During these glorious times of corruption, those deserved of a heaping helping of political patronage but with not-so-easily-vetted pasts were given a post with the regulating district. And it's easy to see why.

Among the dozens of small- to mid-sized daily newspapers in the upstate region, none have placed the regulating district under the microscope for any lasting period of time. Honorable mentions go to both The Daily Gazette of Schenectady and The Leader-Herald of Gloversville, which both try to follow up on issues facing the Great Sacandaga Lake, mostly as they pertain to Fulton County.

In the area of Hadley, Day, Edinburg and Luzerne, however, news coverage is sparse. For most papers, including The Post-Star of Glens Falls, The Times Union of Albany and the ineptly named Saratogian, coverage is limited to quick-hit articles, usually printed after issues are raised in the aforementioned publications. This means the Conklingville Dam --the single most important thing the regulating district is supposed to regulate --hardly gets a mention in the press, despite the catastrophic effect a failure might pose for any downstream municipality.

As some might recall, the damn dam is pretty damn old. In fact, it's now heading toward the century mark, which is never a happy milestone to reach in the life of a structure holding back hundreds of billions of gallons of water, especially if it's overseen by a corrupt agency more worried about filling their own pockets with filthy lucre. But despite this fact, the so-called lake regulators continue to max out the damn's storage capacity, filling the Sacandaga reservoir with more water than it's ever contained throughout it's 77-year history. The idea is to have enough water to discharge from the dam to keep water pulsing through hydroelectric dams in the upper Hudson Valley, where the Sacandaga River converges.

So let's do a quick recap: hopelessly inept agency of political cronies watching an aging dam that's stopped a lake's worth of water from wiping out half of Saratoga County, with no journalist to take the agency to task for over-extending the capabilities of the structure.

Right.

One newspaper made a glib mention of the sudden appearance of rebar poking through the dam's spillway, but it was a story buried deep in the local section. No news agency ever bother to report that lake levels over the summer were too high to make the more than $500,000 worth of necessary repair. Nor did they bother to mention that one of the emergency dow valves failed to open during a routine check last month; reports on both were given during the regulating district's monthly meeting in Johnstown, a city within easy driving distance of every daily newspaper in the Capital Region.

Then on Monday, the regulating district dropped it's latest bombshell: the second of three emergency valves has experienced some problems and the lake must be lowered by more than 11 feet. Robert Foltan, the fork-tongued chief regulating district fubulist, said the dam will be releasing nearly 3.5 million gallons of water per minute until reaching the "target elevation" of 760 feet.

Put in layman's terms, this means the valves present at the bottom of the dam to drain the reservoir in the event of a dam failure are busted. With two of the three valves inoperable, there's a good chance the lake couldn't be lowered in event of an imminent rupture.

But that's alright. Public safety is the regulating district’s highest priority, said the agency's paid shill of an executive director Glenn LaFave, who sent out a press release only after the second valve failed. Just don't mention the word "Gilboa" anytime in the near future.

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