Water's finally back at Swinging Bridge

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Sheriff’s Deputy Blake Starner, left, chats with Russ Heyman. Heyman was one of many waterfront homeowners who was angered when the Swinging Bridge Reservoir closed in 2005. Now that it’s open, Heyman said, “All is forgiven.”

By Adam Bosch

Times Herald-Record
July 22, 2007 Mongaup Valley — After more than two years as a debris-laden mud pit, Swinging Bridge Reservoir made a triumphant return to hydro-recreation yesterday.
Alliance Energy, which purchased the 9-mile-long reservoir, its dams and hydroelectric station in May, threw a barbecue to celebrate the revival of this popular recreation spot just a few miles west of Monticello.
It was open to all recreation yesterday for the first time since spring 2005. Boats zipped along in the water and people lounged by the shore.
The lighthearted atmosphere was vastly different from the past two years. In May 2005, workers found a 40-foot-wide sinkhole in the dam and inspections uncovered significant structural problems.
The reservoir was gradually drained by its former owner, Mirant Corp. Mirant promised to complete repairs within a year, but spent much of 2005 and 2006 pleading financial hardship.
Alliance Energy purchased Swinging Bridge and three other Mirant properties in bankruptcy court in May for $5.1 million. The company then fixed Swinging Bridge's dam and reopened the reservoir 55 days ahead of the deadline set by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
"It was so depressing to live on a lake and not be able to use it," said Gary Gottlieb, who owns a home on Swinging Bridge. "We're happy to have it back, and now we'll try to salvage the summer."
Perhaps no one was hurt by the reservoir's closure as much as Bill Croissant, owner of the Swinging Bridge Lake Marina. He had about 80 boats docked at his marina before the water was drained, but now he has none.
To survive financially, Croissant had to build docks for other lakes and dig deep into his savings. "It'll take us a few years to recover," he said.
While Alliance workers were busy yesterday soaking up praise from lake lovers, some local lawmakers remain displeased by the company's recent request for a $14.4 million reduction in its assessment.
The lawmakers say the reduction would take a large chunk out of nearby town and school tax revenue. A judge will determine whether Alliance's request is fulfilled or denied.
A spokesman for Alliance said the company hopes to begin using its three hydroelectric power generators along Swinging Bridge within the next few months. The generators can produce about 31 megawatts of clean power.
But yesterday, neither taxes nor clean power were central in the minds of people who finally got their reservoir back. The water was center stage.
"I was looking to move out of town after they drained the lake," said Russ Heyman, who lives on the shore. "Five minutes back on the water and all is forgiven."