Brookfield Power worked with the city of Cohoes, N.Y., to redevelop and re-open a 2-acre park adjacent to the 38.8-MW School Street hydroelectric facility. The new park provides a place for city residents to gather for celebrations and to enjoy the view of the nearby 65-foot-tall Cohoes Falls on the Mohawk River. Through the redevelopment, Brookfield Power formed strong working relationships with city decision-makers and demonstrated its commitment to be a responsible steward of the land surrounding its hydro project. Brookfield Power invested several hundred thousand dollars and about 200-person hours of staff time in the park redevelopment.
Need for park redevelopment
The city of Cohoes and the falls for which it is named are popular tourist destinations. Formed by glacial activity during the last Ice Age, the falls cascade 65 feet over 1,300-foot-wide shale cliffs. This is the second largest waterfall in the state, behind Niagara Falls. On most days, flows over the falls provide spectacular views for tourists and area residents.
Overlook Park, which provides views of Cohoes Falls, is owned by Brookfield Power and is located in the city’s historic Harmony Mills district. In 1999, this part of the city – between the Mohawk River and the Erie Canal – was listed on the National Register of Historic Places because of its importance to the cotton milling industry operating in the area between 1860 and 1880.
Overlook Park was established about 50 years ago. In the 1970s, the first walking trails and benches were put in place. However, as ownership of the hydro facility passed through several hands, the park fell into disrepair. By 2006, the trails had become overgrown and the concrete benches had begun to crumble. Brookfield Power recognized the importance of this park, which is visible from the School Street facility, as well as the need to restore it.
Breathing new life into Overlook Park
In planning for the park redesign, Brookfield Power worked with community residents and other stakeholders to develop a plan that would beautify the park and its surroundings. The objective was to highlight nature within an industrial landscape. As part of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) operating license settlement agreement for the School Street project, Brookfield Power committed to work with a variety of stakeholders – including the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, New York Rivers United, and the Rensselear County Conservation Alliance. The settlement agreement established minimum flow requirements that provide additional water to the falls.
To improve the appearance of the park, Brookfield Power made many cosmetic changes. This involved removing stumps and vines; seeding new grass; installing paving stones to resurface the concrete walking paths; and providing new benches, picnic tables, and rest areas. Brookfield Power also made improvements and repairs to the city-owned access roads leading to the park. In addition, by relocating a security fence, Brookfield Power was able to increase the number of parking spaces available for visitors to Overlook Park.
To further improve the view in the park, Brookfield Power removed the above-ground transmission facilities, which had been retired-in-place. The company also cleaned the power canal that supplies water to the hydro facility.
Other work performed as part of the park redesign was renovation of the external facade of the outbuildings associated with the School Street facility. These buildings are visible from Overlook Park. Brookfield Power used materials that are consistent with the facility’s historic surroundings. The renovation included masonry repair, new exterior lighting, and a fresh coat of paint where needed.
All of this work was performed by several local construction crews, including stone masons, landscapers, and fencing professionals.
Results and lessons learned
Overlook Park has become even more popular since the redesign, and Brookfield Power receives many compliments from local residents and other park visitors. In October 2006, Brookfield Power was one of several partners recognized by the Hudson Mohawk Industrial Gateway at its annual fundraising event honoring the “North Mohawk Street Revitalization.”
The official grand re-opening celebration for Overlook Park was held in October 2007. Community members, business leaders, and environmental champions came together to celebrate the new park, a symbol that the city of Cohoes is moving in the right direction.
For Brookfield Power, the park redevelopment provided an opportunity to bolster relationships with city leaders. These same leaders were involved in decision-making during the relicensing of the School Street facility. FERC approved a new operating license for the project in February 2007.
Redevelopment of Overlook Park and the subsequent functions held at the park receive coverage by the local media (newspaper, radio, and television), highlighting and enhancing Brookfield Power’s reputation as a responsible steward of the facility and its surroundings.
Throughout the park redesign, Brookfield Power recognized the importance of managing its relationships with stakeholders. To do this, Brookfield Power sought input from all interested parties in advance of starting the actual redesign plan. The company also kept stakeholders involved and informed for the duration of the project. One way Brookfield Power achieved this was by posting the conceptual redesign of Overlook Park at the construction site.
Future park plans
To further enhance recreational opportunities at its School Street facility, Brookfield Power is planning an entirely new park, Falls View, to be constructed on 3 acres owned by the company adjacent to the falls. The idea for this park arose during the FERC relicensing process for School Street. Brookfield Power hired a design firm, Barton and Loguidice from nearby Syracuse, N.Y., to engineer the project. The new park will feature a foot bridge over the power canal to reach the park from the parking area, hiking trails, a handicapped-accessible platform, and access to the river for fishing. Furthermore, the National Park Service will create a series of signs to give historic and geological information about the falls, river, native people, and more. The land on which this new park will sit has never before been accessible to the public.
Development of both the Overlook and Falls View parks illustrates how Brookfield Power is providing benefits to the city of Cohoes beyond supplying clean, renewable, and affordable hydropower.
– For additional information about the park redevelopment, contact Julie Smith-Galvin, Brookfield Power, 200 Donald Lynch Blvd., Suite 300, Marlborough, MA 01752; (1) 508-251-770; E-mail: [email protected] brookfieldpower.com.