Fulfilling a bold dream – the St Lawrence-FDR Power Project

1 April 2010

On 17 July 1958 employees at the Power Authority of the State of New York (now the New York Power Authority) celebrated as power generation began at its first hydroelectric station on the St. Lawrence River. Now, over 50 years later, this power scheme – the St Lawrence-Franklin D. Roosevelt Power Project – is still playing a crucial role, providing clean low-cost electricity to consumers in Northern New York and beyond.

Development of this important scheme, however, did not come without decades of debate and a monumental construction effort that harnessed one of North America’s mightiest waterways. The development on the St. Lawrence River was conceived as a joint power and navigation scheme that included construction of a St. Lawrence Seaway to link the Great Lakes with the Atlantic Ocean. A treaty between the US and Canada covering both projects appeared to be a necessary first step.

In the first part of the 20th Century, while Canadians mapped plans to develop the river’s hydro potential, US officials wrestled over whether control of this valuable resource should be in public or private hands. In New York, advocates on both sides of the political aisle called for public development. A stateowned power authority was proposed to take on the assignment, sparking further bitter dispute. It took the decisive drive of Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt to win the state legislature’s approval of the Power Authority of the State of New York. Roosevelt signed the hard-fought Power Authority Act in 1931, creating the state utility that would join the Canadian Utility, Ontario Hydro, in developing the river.

More than 20 years passed before the Power Authority could fulfill the purpose for which it was created: construction of a hydroelectric facility on the St. Lawrence River. A breakthrough came in 1952 when the International Joint Commission, formed to resolve disputes over waterways along the US-Canadian border, granted permits for the project to the two nations. The Power Authority obtained a federal licence in 1953 to develop the US share of the facility.

With construction about to begin in 1954, Governor Thomas E. Dewey selected Robert Moses, New York’s ‘master builder’ as Power Authority chairman. On the basis of a handshake, Moses and his Ontario Hydro counterpart, Robert H. Saunders, commenced a remarkable international endeavour that called for the massive project to be completed two years ahead of the original schedule and for costs to be shared on a 50-50 basis.

Groundbreaking took place in August 1954, with first power achieved four years later at Ontario Hydro’s Robert H. Saunders-St. Lawrence Generating Station and at the Power Authority facility, known today as the St Lawrence-Franklin D. Roosevelt Power Project. Full power flowed on both sides of the border in 1959, meeting the ambitious target set by Moses and Saunders only five years before. Construction costs amounted to US$650M, split equally between the US and Canada.

The international power project was formally dedicated on 27 June 1959 in ceremonies led by Queen Elizabeth II and Vice President Richard M. Nixon. Here, the Queen unveiled the International Friendship Monument on the border between the US and Canada, at the center of the dam. The monument, refurbished shortly before the power project’s 50th anniversary in 2008, commemorates the friendship between the two nations and the cooperative undertaking that made the project a reality.

Project data

Located in the Town of Massena, St. Lawrence County, the principal features of the project include the Robert Moses-Robert H Saunders power dam, which has an 80-foot head and stretches 3200ft (975m) across the St. Lawrence River. The dam includes 32 turbine-generator sets, with 16 operated by NYPA and 16 by Ontario Power Generation, producing 800MW for each utility. The Long Sault Dam, 3.5 miles (5.6km) upstream from the power dam, directs flow toward the powerhouse, while the Iroquois dam, 28.5 miles (46km) upstream, controls the outflow of Lake Ontario. Other features include the Massena Intake and Lake St. Lawrence, which at 37,500 acres – almost as large as the District of Columbia – extends from Iroquois Dam to the power dam, enclosed by 16 miles of dikes.

On the US side, two 230kV transmission lines link to three NYPA substations – Plattsburgh, Adirondack and Massena (link with NYPA 765kV line) – and Ontario. Three local 115kV lines serve project customer, Alcoa, with links to General Motors. (Three other 115kV lines from the project to Alcoa facilities are shared between the company and NYPA; two of these lines tap into the town of Massena’s municipal system).

New licence, new benefits

In October 2003, the Power Authority received a new 50-year federal license for the St. Lawrence-FDR project, leading to a host of new economic, environmental and recreational benefits to the region stemming from various agreements. These benefits include:

• A US$115M community enhancement fund for 10 entities represented by the Local Government Task Force, composed of St Lawrence County; the towns of Lisbon, Louisville, Massena and Waddington; the villages of Massena and Waddington; and the Lisbon, Massena and Madrid-Waddington school districts, with $2M to be provided each year for the life of the new project licence.

• A funding mechanism likely to produce another $10.5M over the next 50 years, known as the High Water Flow Adjustment, triggered whenever annual net generation at the power project exceeds 7M MWh.

• Approximately $19M in recreational improvements to be completed over the next five years, with more than $11M for Robert Moses and Coles Creek state parks and some $8M at local parks in Lisbon, Louisville, Massena and Waddington. In addition to renovations and expansions of existing facilities for swimming, boating, camping, hiking and picnicking, many of the projects will bring these sites into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

• Significantly revised project boundaries following the return of approximately 600 acres of shoreline property to local communities and adjoining landowners. In addition to the conveyance of this acreage, 895 acres of surplus project land were previously conveyed to North County communities, a process that began in early 2001.

• Shoreline stabilisation projects to halt or prevent erosion at 31 sites along the project shoreline, with work expected to be completed over a 10-year period, starting in 2004.

In addition to consulting local residents, the Power Authority has worked closely with representatives from the State Department of Environmental Conservation, the US Fish and Wildlife Service and New York Rivers United to identify impacts to the St. Lawrence River and the surrounding environment. As part of its new licence, NYPA will design, construct, maintain and monitor 10 Habitat Improvement Projects throughout the power project’s boundaries at a cost of $8.4M. These projects range from nesting platforms for osprey and loons to hundreds of acres of grassland that provide nesting areas for northern harrier, upland sandpiper, various waterfowl and other birds.

Significant work is also planned for the Wilson Hill Wildlife Management Area, built by the Power Authority in the 1950s and managed today by state environmental officials. NYPA will spend $9.4M to rehabilitate dikes and other water control structures on Wilson Hill.

The impact of the project on eel migration was also studied extensively as part of the licensing process. A new $2M eel-passage facility was constructed at the scheme, with the facility beginning operation on 1 July 2006. Further details on this fishway can be found in the January 2007 issue of International Water Power & Dam Construction.

Life extension and modernisation

NYPA’s stewardship of the facility has also included an ongoing Life Extension and Modernization program, with all 16 turbine-generators being refurbished as part of a $281M program scheduled to run through 2013.

NYPA originally constructed its St. Lawrence-FDR project with two different turbine designs, by Allis Chalmers and Baldwin Lima Hamilton, due to the aggressive schedule for completing the project in the late 1950s. No one manufacturer could meet the timetable and supply all 16 units, so the job was split.

The LEM rehabilitation began in 1998, with Alstom USA awarded contracts to manufacture all 16 replacement turbines. The program began with replacement of the eight BLH units, with the remaining eight AC units replaced subsequently.

The first new turbine was delivered on 2 May 2001 for an in-service date of 4 April 2002.

Each turbine replacement entails a highly coordinated effort involving nine major component manufacturers working together to achieve numerous installation milestones. Each unit is disassembled and removed, with its location – the turbine pit in the power dam –renovated to facilitate installation of the new Alstom turbine. Each unit’s heavy components and machinery are transported from the site for refurbishment and returned for installation in the turbine pit, with the new turbine that was delivered earlier.

St. Lawrence-FDR personnel have been responsible for most of the LEM work. One facet of the job – reconditioning the turbine wicket gates – is being done by staff at NYPA’s Frederick R. Clark Energy Center in Marcy.

A contingent of New York, national and international manufacturers have been contracted to produce the components and machinery for the LEM due to many factors including the high demand worldwide for the types of raw materials used in the initiative, a fast-track work schedule to minimize outage times and the search for competitive pricing.

Among the design advances in the replacement turbines is a more efficient shape so each refurbished unit will use less water to generate the same amount of power. Also, the use of stainless steel, instead of carbon steel, makes the new turbines more resistant to wear and reduces required maintenance, extending the life of the power project.

Future issues

The St. Lawrence-FDR project has long served as a mainstay for Massena’s aluminum industry. In January this year, New York Governor David A. Paterson approved a new contract between NYPA and Alcoa Inc., which is intended to ensure that the North Country’s largest private employer will remain in St. Lawrence County for decades to come and expand its manufacturing operations.

Under the contract, which will be effective on 1 July 2013, NYPA will make available to Alcoa 478MW of low-cost hydropower for a term of 30 years. In exchange for the use of that power, $600M will be invested to upgrade Alcoa’s facilities, and approximately 1000 jobs will be retained at its two plants. The project will also create 600 to 900 construction jobs over the two- to three-year construction period. The event follows the ratification of the contract at the end of 2008 by NYPA’s Board of Trustees.

In addition to the major employment and capital-investment commitments, the contract provides for Alcoa’s funding of a $10M North Country Economic Development Fund (NCEDF) for use in St. Lawrence, Franklin, Essex, Jefferson, Lewis, Hamilton and Herkimer counties and on the Akwesasne Mohawk Reservation. Alcoa’s funding of the NCEDF will be provided within 90 days of a decision by Alcoa’s Board of Directors to proceed with the rebuilding of Alcoa’s East Plant. The $10M fund will be jointly administered by NYPA and another entity specified by New York State.

The new contract marks the first time that formal job commitments, similar to arrangements NYPA has with other businesses in the state for various power programs, are part of the requirements for Alcoa’s use of the hydro power. NYPA may proportionately reduce the power allocation if employment falls below the agreed-upon minimum threshold. Also, Alcoa and NYPA may, under certain economic conditions, extend the contract for an additional 10 years.

The new contract provides that Alcoa will continue to receive its current allocation of 478MW of hydro (374MW of firm power and 104MW of interruptible power) at its Massena East and West Plants. This allocation accounts for approximately 60% of the St. Lawrence-FDR power project’s generating output.

Important dates

1 Jan 1930: Gov Franklin D. Roosevelt states in his annual message to the Legislature that hydroelectric power generated on the St Lawrence river should "remain forever in the actual possession of the people of the state or of an agency created by them."
27 April 1931: Governor Roosevelt signs the Power Authority Act at his home in Hyde Park, NY. The law creates the Power Authority of the State of New York, now known as the New York Power Authority (NYPA), to develop the hydroelectric power potential of the International Rapids section of the St. Lawrence River.
29 October 1952: The International Joint Commission, a binational organisation, grants permits to the US and Canada for construction of an international hydroelectric power project on the St Lawrence River, to span the border between Massena, N Y, and Cornwall, Ontario.
15 July 1953: The Federal Power Commission, now known as the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), issues a licence to the Power Authority to build a hydroelectric project on the St. Lawrence River.
10 August 1954: The Power Authority breaks ground for construction of its first generating project, on the St Lawrence River.
17 July 1958: The St Lawrence project produces first power to begin operation as the Power Authority's first generating facility.
27 June 1959: Completion of the St Lawrence project is celebrated in a dedication ceremony attended by Queen Elizabeth II and Vice President Richard M Nixon. The International Friendship Monument is unveiled.
20 July 1959: Full power is delivered from the Power Authority's St Lawrence project, two years ahead of the original schedule.
9 November 1965: The Power Authority's Niagara and St. Lawrence hydroelectric projects continue to operate as a major blackout strikes the Northeastern US and Canada. No damage is incurred by the Power Authority's generating and transmission facilities, and normal service resumes on all lines as soon as the substations and related facilities of NYPA's customers are operational.
28 June 1978: Power Authority trustees approve a proposed contract for the sale of hydro power to the Town of Massena if the town's effort to establish a municipal electric system is successful. Service begins when the Massena system is established in 1981.
25 August 1981: The St. Lawrence project is renamed in honour of the New York governor largely responsible for the Power Authority's creation. The new name is the St. Lawrence-Franklin D. Roosevelt Power Project.
1 May 1987: The Power Authority launches the Greater Massena Economic Development Fund by presenting a US$1M contribution for low interest loans to businesses relocating to or expanding in St. Lawrence County.
4 January 1998: A severe winter storm begins dumping snow and freezing rain on Northern New York, disrupting power supplies by causing widespread damage to transmission and distribution lines. For about a week, the Power Authority's St. Lawrence-FDR project is the only source of electricity for most of the affected area.
2 May 2001: The first new turbine for St. Lawrence-FDR project's Life Extension and Modernization (LEM) arrives. The 15-year LEM began with engineering and design work in 1998 and is scheduled for completion in 2013 at an estimated cost of $281M.
23 July 2001: The project's visitors centre welcomes its 5 millionth guest since opening in 1958.
31 October 2001: The Power Authority hand-delivers its application for a new license to operate the project to FERC in Washington.
24 May 2002: In response to heightened security concerns following the 11 September 2001 attacks, the Power Authority announces plans to relocate its St. Lawrence-FDR project visitors center to nearby Hawkins Point.
14 August 2003: The Power Authority's Niagara and St. Lawrence-FDR projects are the only major power plants in New York state that continue to operate when a major blackout hits New York, seven other states and Ontario. For a time, the hydro projects and the Power Authority's 765kV transmission line from Quebec supplied about 60% of the electricity still available in New York.
22 October 2003: FERC approves a new 50-year license for the Power Authority to operate the St. Lawrence-FDR project. The action comes more than a week before the original licence is due to expire. Licensing benefits include millions of dollars in payments for local communities and school districts, improvements to state and local parks; land transfers, and fish and wildlife habitat improvements.
15 July 2005: The Power Authority opens its new $5M St. Lawrence-FDR Power Project Visitors Center at Hawkins Point .
21 December 2007: An agreement in principle is announced for NYPA to supply low-cost St Lawrence-FDR project hydropower to Alcoa for 30 years in return for the company's pledge to maintain at least 900 jobs in Massena.

Remembering the early days - employees share their experiences

Nearly 55 years ago, three ceremonial shovels struck earth along the banks of the St Lawrence River, symbolically starting construction of the Power Authority's first generating facility and one of New York State's largest and most reliable hydroelectric projects.
Back in 2004, some of the individuals who played a part in this important chapter of NYPA history recalled the St Lawrence-FDR project in its infancy. They remembered thousands of construction workers descending upon the once sleepy village of Massena. They remembered millions of cubic yards of dirt replaced with equally impressive amounts of concrete. And they remembered the cold.
Of those interviewed, only Dave Peterson of Louisville remembered the actual groundbreaking, held on 10 August 1954, with New York Governor Thomas Dewey, Canadian Prime Minister Louis St Laurent and Ontario Premier Leslie Frost. Peterson, began his NYPA career as a land management engineer, helping acquire the property needed to build the hydro power project.
"I think he only piece of ground that they owned at the time was where they did the groundbreaking," he joked. "The mapping of each individual piece of property needed for the project was well underway, but the actual land acquisition process was an ongoing thing that I was involved with."
Among the many pieces of real estate impacted by the construction project were 19 cemeteries throughout Northern New York. The late Belmonte 'Bill' Cucolo worked as a contract engineer in 1954 and he remembered dealing with a firm that specialised in relocating cemeteries to make way for new hydro power construction.
"They were out of Beaufort, and they charged $100 a body," Cucolo recalled. "Some of the cemeteries we moved were from pre-Revolutionary War days."
Jay Brady of Waddington remembered meeting construction workers from across the country while working as a mechanic on NYPA's first power project.
"Some of the guys had worked on Boulder Dam and Grand Coulee Dam," Brady said. "We called them gypsies because they just kept travelling. From St Lawrence, some of them went over to Niagara."
Joe King, who also worked as a mechanic, was most impressed with the huge pieces of equipment needed to move large, heavy objects. A resident of Brushton, in Franklin County, he described how workers kept an oversized crane from tipping over while lifting 80 ton transformers: they attached a bulldozer as a counterweight to the crane arm.
Starting at $2.75 an hour, King remembered working long hours, including one stretch of 19 hours straight, adding: "I think I had 500 hours of overtime one year."
Roger Bennett of Antwerp recalled working in the project's administration building before its windows were installed.
"The wind used to blow right through there," he explained. "They built a plywood shack inside the control room, around the operators desk, so you wouldn't freeze to death in the winter."
Almost everyone had a story about North Country winters. The late Steve Metruck, a Massena resident who started in electrical maintenance, remembered one cold snap that had workers especially concerned. With the St Lawrence River frozen all the way to Montreal, river water was backing up to the point where it threatened to overflow the cofferdams protecting the powerhouse construction site, Metruck explained. Dynamite was used to break up enough of the ice pack to avert a disaster.
Local residents at the time of the construction project saw Massena turn into a boomtown almost overnight. The late Vern Tyo described how teams of construction workers rented hotel rooms, eight men to a room, sleeping in shifts as work progressed around the clock. "Half of Massena was working on that thing at one time or another," the former construction electrician recalled. "We never saw anything that big before."
Another Massena native, John Lenney, was discharged from the Army in 1955 and came home to find "construction everywhere".
"I had heard that a hydro project was being built while I was still in the Army but I never realized the enormity of it until I got back there and saw all these people and all this work going on," Lenney reported. "And it wasn't just the power project. They were building new houses, new stores, new schools even. The project had a major impact on the whole economy up here. It was unbelievable."
By Jill Murman Payne

About the New York Power Authority

The New York Power Authority (NYPA) is the US' largest state-owned electric utility, with 18 generating facilities in various parts of New York State and more than 1400 circuit-miles of transmission lines. The utility uses no tax money or state credit - it finances its operations through the sale of bonds and revenues earned in large part through sales of electricity.
President and chief executive officer of NYPA is Richard M. Kessel, with Trustee Michael J. Townsend as acting chairman. The utility serves on behalf of New York State Governor David A. Paterson.

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