Photo by Lohr McKinstry
Albany Engineering President James Besaw Sr. (at podium) talks about the proposed Mineville Energy Storage Project during a scoping hearing at Moriah Central School. At left is FERC project coordinator Chris Millard.
MORIAH – A federal hearing on a hydroelectric project proposed for Moriah’s old iron mines drew 50 people recently.
Of the nine people who spoke, most either supported the $260 million project or wanted to make sure it wouldn’t shake or flood their nearby homes.
Federal Energy Regulatory Commission fisheries biologist Chris Millard is the coordinator for the permit process.
“We look at these applications from all angles,” he said. “These project scoping meetings are critical to the mission of the agency (FERC).”
The Mineville Energy Storage Project would generate power by drawing water from upper to lower mines through generating turbines during high-demand periods, then pumping it back up with the same turbines acting as pumps when demand is low.
Millard said the process began in 2005, and his agency received the application in 2015 from Albany Engineering Corp.
“It took about 10 years to develop,” Millard said. “Anything and everything is on the table (for the hearing) in terms of input.”
The permit timetable is that the deadline for comments is April 2017, then a draft environmental impact study will be issued in October 2017, with comments taken in November, then a final environmental assessment and permit by March 2018.
Albany Engineering President James Besaw Sr. explained how the project would work.
“Pumped storage is a type of hydro,” he said. “We take water from an upper reservoir; it goes down through a turbine and generates electricity.”
The turbine also acts as a pump, moving the water back later, he said.
The mines that would be used are Old Bed and Harmony, Besaw said, about 2,500 feet underground and the length of nine football fields.
Besaw said the project would create five to 15 permanent jobs, and 100 to 200 construction jobs during its two year build process.
The total output would be 260 megawatts, fed into a nearby 115-kilovolt high-voltage line owned by National Grid.
“It will be privately financed, with no subsidiaries of any kind,” Besaw said.
The property is owned by the Town of Moriah, and Albany Engineering would negotiate with the town for purchase or lease.
Resident Katrinka Trombley expressed concern the project would cause her house to vibrate.
“We had tremors in Witherbee from the mines (when they operated),” she said. “My concern is you are going to pump water up and down. Is it going to affect the surface of the ground in Witherbee?”
Besaw said no, but they’ll put out monitoring seismographs to be sure.
“We don’t expect the movement of water up and down will cause any tremors,” he said.
Another resident feared swallow holes might open in the ground if the mines are eroded by the water flow.
“What do we have as security that our houses aren’t going to fall into sinkholes?” Holly Burkey asked.
Besaw said some mine openings have failed since they were closed in the 1970s, and have to be fixed, so water doesn’t continue to get in.
“The erosion potential (from the project) is virtually nothing,” he said, because the underground rock is granite.
Port Henry resident Jeff Kelly noted that there are bats roosting in the mines, and asked if the project would affect them.
The bats, including brown and Indiana bats, are believed to be in the Barton Hill mine, however, not the ones the project would utilize.
“The mine we’re talking about is full of water; there are no bats,” Besaw said.
He said the project won’t disturb the bats.
Adirondack Council Executive Director Willie Janeway said his organization supports such projects.
“We’re excited about ways to create energy independence,” Janeway said.
Mark Westburn, an attorney for Solvay SA, the Belgian successor to Republic Steel that owns most of the shuttered iron mines, asked that Albany Engineering be ordered to do a title review and a mineshaft review.
A similar request was made by Steve Wilson, representing Kay Stafford, the Albany area woman who owns the mineral rights to the old mines. Stafford, the widow of state Sen. Ronald Stafford, who died in 2005, bought out the former X-Earth company investors who owned the rights.
“You need to have some title work done,” Wilson said.
Besaw said they looked at who owns the surface lands where they want to locate the project and it was the Town of Moriah.
“Who owns the (mine) holes: Solvay, the surface owners, mineral-rights owners or some other?” Besaw said. “If someone can prove to us they own the holes we will work with them.”
Moriah Town Supervisor Thomas Scozzafava said no one has claimed ownership of the mine holes.
“I’m glad to see people stepping up so we can find out who owns the holes, so they can come in and repair them,” he said.
Millard said FERC is well aware of those issues.
Port Henry Village Board Trustee Linda Smyth noted that the project would boost the economy of the area.
“Please get it done (the permit), so this project can happen,” she said to cheers from the audience.