Removing Hogansburg dam = Restoring nature and culture in Upstate NY
Near the mouth of the St. Regis River in Franklin County, New York, are the final remnants of the Hogansburg Hydroelectric Dam.
The 330-foot-long dam blocked migrating fish and hindered a way of life for over 85 years. The dam neighbors the Saint Regis Mohawk reservation, also known as Akwesasne, and is part of the Tribe’s decades old boundary claim. Talk among stakeholders about decommissioning the Hogansburg Hydroelectric Project, owned by Brookfield Renewable Energy, began in the early stages of Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, aka FERC, relicensing nearly five years ago.
Here’s what you should know:
- Hogansburg is the first hydroelectric dam in New York State to be fully removed. Plus, the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe is the first Tribe in the U.S. to remove a FERC-licensed hydroelectric dam!
Hogansburg Dam has been the site for various mills and dams since 1762, with the initial construction of the Hogansburg Hydroelectric Dam we know today in 1929. The project underwent a thorough review in 2015, when FERC needed to begin the project’s relicensing process. For Brookfield, relicensing would mean costly mechanical and environmental work. Our agency, along with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Trout Unlimited, and Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe, offered an alternative—decommission the dam in disrepair. The Tribe took the lead, ultimately returning project lands to the Mohawk people. FERC issued a decommissioning order in June 2016, followed two months later by removal that is now near completion.
- The removal of Hogansburg Dam has reconnected nearly 275 miles of main stem and tributary habitat for migratory fish. Removing Hogansburg Dam, the first dam on the St. Regis River, will re-establish the river’s direct connection to the St. Lawrence River. For nearly a century, the dam has blocked this important stream habitat to fish migrating from the St. Lawrence River within the St. Regis watershed. The key fish that will benefit from removal of the dam include the American eel (Anguilla rostrata), lake sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens), Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar), and walleye (Sander vitreus).
- Removing Hogansburg Dam restores historic territory that has shaped the Mohawk peoples’ way of life.
The Mohawk people of Akwesasne have a deeply rooted history in a subsistence lifestyle including hunting and fishing along the expansive network of rivers connecting the St. Lawrence River to the Adirondacks. This was changed when early settlers reshaped the network of tributaries for natural resource and hydroelectric power exploitation.With funding from a variety of private and federal sources, the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe was able to have a direct hand in the Hogansburg Dam removal and studying pre and post removal conditions. Decommissioning of the Hogansburg Project means the repatriation of land to the Tribe surrounding the river. Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe will continue working with other stakeholders to study changes following the dam removal.
- This removed dam does not mean lost power.
The poorly functioning Hogansburg Dam provided a miniscule amount of the power supplied for New York (if you want to be exact, 0.00058%). While the project could power 74 households per year in total, it was in need of significant resources to run, repair and upgrade the facility. In comparison, the much larger Moses-Saunders Power Dam on the St. Lawrence River matches Hogansburg’s annual power output roughly every 30 minutes. The Moses-Saunders Power Dam produces more than enough electricity to light a city the size of Washington, D.C.!
- The removal of Hogansburg Dam is a stepping-stone toward future conservation.
While removing this dam does not restore the entire landscape, it is an important starting point toward meeting migratory fish restoration goals and restoring land for the Tribe. This is an opportunity for scientists, including our agency and the U.S. Geological Survey, to work with the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe to monitor the success of the dam removal and future habitat enhancement.