State may assist Rockingham in hydro-dam purchase

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(Host) A state panel investigating whether to buy a series of hydro dams on the Connecticut River has delayed its decision on the project for another week. It’s possible that the state may try to help the town of Rockingham in its effort to purchase a dam in Bellows Falls.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) There was a lot of confusion at the Monday afternoon meeting of the Vermont Hydro Electric Power Authority over the state’s role in the possible purchase of 13 dams along the Connecticut and Deerfield Rivers. The state is hoping to team up with two Canadian power companies to buy the facilities. Under the agreement the state would have a 25 percent share of the project, but the plan is in doubt because the partnership’s initial bid is roughly 30 percent lower than the leading bid.

At the beginning of their meeting, the panel handed out a draft resolution that called on the state to withdraw from the bidding process for the dams. The group then went into executive session to discuss the minutes from its previous meeting, and when it emerged an hour later, it rescinded the draft resolution, collected all of the copies from the press and went back into executive session. At the end of this session, the panel voted to keep all of its options open for another week. An auction of the dams will be held on December 9.

Public Service Department commissioner David O’Brien says this isn’t the time to throw in the towel on the entire deal:

(O’Brien) “So it’s really a question of us holding on to what opening there may be. There’s a lot that can happen in the next 24 hours, 48 hours if certain things go certain ways. Our approach could change and so we just found that in a position today we don’t think it’s a good idea to act.”

(Kinzel) O’Brien says the panel also wants to see if there are ways the state can be helpful to the town of Rockingham in its effort to purchase a dam in Bellows Falls for $72 million:

(O’Brien) “This is a critical time for the town for this to become reality. And if you consider, if you look at what those folks have been trying to do for the last couple of years to make this happen and how much they have invested in it and to be this close and have it come apart because of a technicality or an inability to put the transaction together, and if the state can somehow make that possible we think we should be able to do that.”

(Kinzel) The panel is scheduled to finalize its potential role in the Rockingham project early next week.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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