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After a career spanning more than seven decades, a dedicated public servant in Springville may be headed into permanent retirement later this year.

The Scobey Hill Dam and generating station have helped light thousands of light bulbs, cook countless meals and warm nearly three generations of residents in Springville, converting the waters of Cattaraugus Creek into valuable electricity.

But time has taken a toll on the power plant. It fell idle last summer after one aging generator developed problems requiring $15,000 in repairs and $10,000 for a new transformer. With only one generator running, the manpower needed to maintain it started to outweigh the benefit of the electricity it produced.

Although the dam, at peak efficiency, produced only 4 percent of the village's power in recent years, it still saved the village $50,000 to $90,000 annually.

Local officials are now looking to avoid increasing the current 3 cent per kilowatt hour rate that makes 2,500 customers the envy of many outside the village boundaries; on the other side of North Road, Concord residents pay 14 cents a kilowatt hour.

Some time this spring, the Village Board will choose between repairing the dam and power plant or abandoning the dam as a power source and building a diesel generator.

Repairing the dam, while it might appeal to those with a nostalgia for local history, would be expensive. The cost of fixing the generator and buying a transformer are a mere drop in the bucket compared to the needed repairs to the dam itself. All told, the project would cost $400,000.

On the other hand, a diesel generator would run the village about $230,000.

"It's not a decision we take lightly -- the dam has been in operation 70 years," said Karl R. Lux, superintendent of public works.

The generators originally supplied the village with all its power, but in recent years they ran only when customer usage exceeded the kilowatt allotment supplied by hydroelectric power from Niagara Falls. The village then purchases power from nuclear power plants at about 11 times the cost of hydroelectric power.

A group of Niagara Mohawk Power Corp. engineers assessed the situation, coming up with 32 options for the village to continue using the dam.

"We only found one that was cost-effective, with a pay-back period less than 10 years, and that we thought would work," Lux said.

The $400,000 solution would construct new gates for the dam, which would open by sliding up, similar to double-hung windows. The existing gates open by turning at a 90 degree angle. After 10 years, the project would be paid off, Lux said. But it comes with no guarantee that the dam would require no further repairs.

Aside from the issues of financial savings and environmental responsibility, the Village Board also will need to consider the special place the dam holds in the hearts of Springville residents.

The power plant was accepted on the National Register of Historic Places two years ago, and the outflow side of the dam is a popular fishing spot, adding to the local interest in the issue.

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