On July 3, 2013, FERC’s Office of Enforcement issued a Staff Notice of Alleged Violations with regard to the deaths of two fishermen in relation to Erie Boulevard Hydropower, L.P.’s (“Erie”) operation of its Oswego River Project, located in the City of Oswego, New York. The notice indicates that FERC staff has preliminarily determined that Erie violated FERC’s hydropower licensing regulations relating to ensuring public safety in connection with the project, alleging eight separate violations. The violations include the failure to sound a warning within a reasonable time, safety device failures, and safety protocol omissions.
The incident occurred at the Varick Development of Erie’s Oswego River Project. The Varick Development is located less than a mile from the High Dam project; due to the close proximity of the two projects, water levels and flow speeds are subject to swift, severe changes. The Varick Development is also a popular location for salmon fisherman, with numerous fishermen fishing the river at the time of the event. Because of the popularity of the area to fishermen, and the danger of swiftly changing water conditions, Erie has a Fishermen Alert System, which is intended to alert fishermen below the Varick Dam and in the tailrace area that a significant amount of water is about to come over the dam. According to the Oswego River Project Recreation Plan filed by Erie, which had been approved by FERC in 2006, fishermen may only have three to ten minutes to safely exit the river when water levels rise.
On September 28, 2010, due to the joint operations of the dams, water levels in the river quickly rose, and the current rapidly intensified. Four fishermen in the tailrace area adjacent to the dam were swept away. Two of the fishermen were able to cling to sign posts in the river and were rescued by the Lake Oswego Fire Department. The other two fishermen were pulled from the river downstream and ultimately died. The notice alleges that Erie failed to sound the Fishermen Alert System within a reasonable amount of time.
The notice alleged that a public safety camera was not working, something not reported to FERC, and that operator monitoring Varick had failed to utilize his monitor to view fishermen in Varick’s tailrace. Varick’s staggered-height flashboards were also in partial failure, and Erie had failed to report or provide requested information to FERC regarding this failure. FERC Office of Enforcement staff also alleged that Erie failed to adequately train the dam operator regarding the Fishermen Alert System and public safety.
To view the notice, click here.