Pan Am Railways accused of damaging Pownal hydroelectric plant site

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POWNAL — A Pan Am Railways work crew damaged the Pownal Tannery Hydroelectric site and inadequately repaired the damage, the plant's operator told the Select Board Thursday night.

The company on Friday denied that its repairs were not adequate.

"I can't go into too many details in open session," Bill Scully, who leases the plant from the town through Hoosic River Hydro LLC, told the board. "Needless to say, there's a variety of issues."

Scully described damage done by the company during brush-cutting operations, and told the board he'd like to know how they want to proceed with the issue.

"They've been completely unresponsive," he said. Board Chairman Bryan Harris advised Scully that, as the topic "encroach[ed] on legal matters," they would have to discuss it with him in executive session.

"We're going to continue to discuss it," Scully said when reached Friday. "We had a discussion about possible legal remedies, possible legal action. I do not want to speak for the board."

Town Administrator Michael Walker said Friday that the town has been involved in the issue; over the course of the year. He, Scully, and Rep. Nelson Brownell of the Bennington-1 House District have been working with the state to try to figure out the issue.

"Mr. Scully and the board are both in agreement that we have to be unified, and we have to go through this together," Walker said. The damage occurred sometime in July or August of 2018, he said.

When reached Friday, Scully also elaborated on damage done at the plant.

"In briefest description, in July of 2018, they cut down a bunch of trees on the town land, land that Hoosic River Hydro uses, and blocked access to the plant," he said. They also damaged a guardrail, he said.

He said they notified the company that the site is under the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) under the Federal Power Act, which means all work at the hydroelectric site must be approved by FERC, he said. In attempting to fix the damage last fall, the company also tore up asphalt, piled debris and removed a well cover, he said. They also trespassed, he said.

"We have not authorized them to fix anything yet," he said. "We have not given [them] permission to go on site yet. The repair caused more damage, and it was done without .. authorization, the town's or mine."

The Banner did not receive a response from Pan Am about this allegation by press time.

Scully said the company has caused more damage than he could speak about publicly, citing security concerns.

After the company went in to fix the damage, Scully said, he sent an email on Nov. 9, pointing out items that were damaged.

"It was not a maybe thing," he said, referencing that he sent photos. "They have not responded to that email. They know that it hasn't been fixed. And that's that."

He said he also sent another email with more pictures on Nov. 12, but hasn't received any response to that either.

The company still needs to clean up debris, repair a guardrail and clean up chunks of asphalt and gravel on the ground, he said.

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But for their part, Scully said, he and his partner at Hoosic River Hydro, Armin Moehrle, aren't waiting.

They're going to proceed with repairs on their own and seek reimbursement from Pan Am.

They haven't had any other damage issues since the plant was commissioned Nov. 1, 2017, he said.

Pan Am Railways Executive Vice President Cyndi Scarano told the Banner Friday that she received an email from Scully about the damage in July 2018.

It stated that the fence had been cut, access to the site was blocked by trees and there was damage to a barrier, she said.

In November 2018, the company fixed the fence and moved the brush, she said.

"I thought the issue was over," she said. "So if it's not, I'll have my trackmen reach out to them, see what the problem is."

The damage occurred through brush-cutting efforts, she said.

She said it seems to her that all the work has been done.

"I'm not looking to get anybody frustrated here," she said. "I think that we all thought that the work was completed."

She said she is not aware of any other prior damage issues at the site.

Walker said the company also removed soil at the site.

"They actually removed soil, and it's a brownfield," he said. "You're not supposed to do that."

The company's effort to fix the damage wasn't close to satisfactory, Walker said.

"It was wholly inadequate," he said. "Actually, it was laughable."

In cleaning up debris, the company "basically pushed the pile of tree limbs and clippings to just another place on the property," Walker said. They also left the well cover unsecured, he said.

Walker confirmed when reached Friday that he had just spoken with the town road foreman, who they had gone to the site with a backhoe to fix the well cover situation.

"We both felt that that was an immediate need," Walker said.

Patricia LeBoeuf can be reached at pleboeuf@benningtonbanner.com, at @BAN_pleboeuf on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 118.


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