Thousands of men and machines are now at work changing the shape of a 40-mile stretch of the St. Lawrence River Valley. The stream, one of the largest rivers on the continent, is being pushed around as though it were a village brook. The adjacent landscape is being shunted about to such an extent that residents of the area hardly recognize the place if they are away for only a month or two.
All this, of course, is in the interest of power and transportation. But outdoor enthusiasts, ranging from fishermen to sightseeing tourists, are apprehensive over what is being done to the beautiful river. Their attitude is somewhat like that of the GI who was found fishing in a water-filled shell hole behind the lines in France. The GI was, no doubt, in full accord with the national effort, yet, at the same time, he was not going to be deprived of his favorite sport.
The St. Lawrence Power Project, a joint undertaking of New York State and the province of Ontario involving the expenditure of $600 million, is a system of dams and dikes controlling the mighty river so it will produce 1,880,000 kilowatts of electric power. This will make it second only to Grand Coulee Dam on the Columbia River, the world's largest hydroelectric power producing plant. At the same time, but as a separate project, the governments of the U.S. and Canada are building the St. Lawrence Seaway to carry ocean ships into the Great Lakes.
As residents of the valley and visitors from over the country watch the machines raise mountains of spoil and dig canyons backed by towering walls of concrete, they wonder whether this means the end of the region as a great recreation center and scenic attraction. There are too many big projects in this country where the retreating machines left mountain ranges of raw earth, lakes full of dead trees, and polluted streams.
September 9, 1956
A pledge that this will not happen on the St. Lawrence was given recently by Robert Moses, chairman of the New York State Power Authority. On an inspection tour the other day, Mr. Moses explained that from the beginning plans for the huge project have included not only the cleaning up and reforestation of the miles of dikes and mountain ranges of spoil but also the addition of a new state park, a large wildlife management area and facilities to aid fishing, boating, swimming and other forms of outdoor recreation.
"When this project is completed," Mr. Moses said, "the area will be a better place for wildlife and for human enjoyment than it was before the project started."
This promise comes from the country's outstanding park authority. Mr. Moses prides himself on having built more than 500 playgrounds. He is the man who built the popular Jones Beach on Long Island when those who opposed it said people would never make the long trip out there. Other state parks, parkways and wildlife refuges have been created under his direction.
Driving through the St. Lawrence construction area, Mr. Moses stopped now and again at some vantage point to describe how the place would appear after the dams are built and the countryside is again covered with greenery. As we talked, workmen swarmed over the great monoliths of concrete rising behind cofferdams. Massive trucks hauled earth from steadily deepening pits, and odd machines contributed to the uproar.
Construction of the dams is scheduled to be completed and the first power produced in September 1958. By that time the Barnhart Island Dam and Power Plant, a structure 3,300 feet long, and the Long Sault (pronounced soo) Dam, 2,960 feet long, will have raised the river 90 feet to create a lake 30 miles long and up to two and a half miles wide. Only the higher parts of big islands in the river will remain as smaller islands.
Fishermen are awaiting the creation of the main lake with great hopes. They have held discussions with members of the Power Authority on whether it would be better to stock the lake or let nature take its course. The fishing history of other large man-made lakes has been that the fish increase rapidly from the beginning, and by the third year the fishing becomes terrific. This superabundance continues for four years or so, and then the fish population drops back to a normal level.
Mr. Moses explained that along the lake there would be boat-launching places for fishermen who come hauling their boats on trailers. One ardent St. Lawrence fisherman listened to the plans but still shook his head.
"I just don't know what we're going to do when this thing is built," he said.
"What do you mean?" he was asked.
"We're used to fishing swift water," he said. "Don't know anything else. There'll be still water in this big lake."
William H. Latham, the project's resident engineer, brought out plans for the 2,000-acre wildlife management area along the southern shore of the lake near Wilson Hill, N.Y. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the New York State Conservation Department have been cooperating with the Power Authority in planning this particular phase of the project, which came about as a happy solution to an engineering problem.
When the power reservoir is filled, much of the low-lying land in this vicinity will be inundated to a depth of only a few feet. If the water in the lake dropped as much as seven feet it would leave this area exposed as a vast expanse of mud flats, unsightly, offensive and unsuitable for wildlife.
To eliminate these mud flats and to maintain a controlled water level in this area, the plans call for a series of low earth dikes. Pipe culverts equipped with counter-weighted flap-gates will permit the water to flow into the wildlife marsh when the lake rises and keep it there when the lake recedes. This will result in a permanent shallow lake with depths to 15 feet. There will be large expanses of marsh suitable for migrating and nesting waterfowl. The deeper parts would remain as open water and provide good fishing, especially for black bass and pan fish.
Conservationists in general are interested in this phase of the project because it comes at a time when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other conservation organizations are concerned over the draining of marshes. To have a power project result in the creation of such a wildlife habitat is something of a novelty.
Another 2,000 acres dedicated to sport, recreation and beauty will be included in the new state park to be created in the vicinity of the power dam and near Massena, N.Y. There will be a large bathing beach and facilities for boating, picnicking and camping. It will be called the St. Lawrence State Park, and along one edge of it will run the Long Sault Canal, a link in the St. Lawrence Seaway. Picnicking groups will be able to lounge in the shade while watching the ships go by.
The seaway, which will replace the existing smaller canal, also is of interest to conservationists. Fishermen have a scheme for using it to help eradicate the lamprey eel menace in the Great Lakes. These eels have been killing the fish to such an extent that total war has been declared against them. Progress has been made in checking them at the spawning beds (OUTDOOR WEEK, June 25), but many eels keep attaching themselves to the bottoms of ships and hitchhiking their way into the lakes.
Under this scheme a little of the St. Lawrence electricity would be used to give the hull of each steel ship a jolt at some point before it enters the new lake. The fishermen say this shock would cause the eels to drop off the ships and thus help stop the menace. This scheme is still in the talking stage, and it remains to be seen whether it would work. However, it does demonstrate the interest of the various groups who keep approaching the Power Authority with new ideas.
All of these ideas for preservation of the recreational and esthetic values of the region would be of little value if pollution of the water resulted from the coming of new industries. Mr. Moses said that industries which locate along the river will be required to adhere to certain standards to preserve the lake and river for recreation.
"We shall insist that these industries construct facilities which will not detract from the beauty of the river, so that there will be no pollution of water or air and no residual damage to communities and residents along the river," he said. "As to landscaping, we shall see to it that there are no eyesores, dumps and disfigurements to mar one of the great streams of the world."
To assist in attaining these goals, Mr. Moses has a Committee on Reforestation, Parks and Recreation, composed largely of officials of the various New York State park commissions. Although their plans have been made, most of the work of restoration cannot be done until the dams are completed. Meanwhile, seedling trees are being grown by the New York State Conservation Department for later planting on spoil banks.
With construction approaching the halfway mark, the St. Lawrence Power Project has turned out to be a national attraction. Sightseers come from all over to indulge in the fascination of watching other people work. Never have sidewalk superintendents been treated so royally. At vantage points around the project, overlooks have been set aside where visitors may park their cars and look out over the growing dams and the clattering machines.
Bus tours of the 40-mile area are arranged, and when the groups descend from the buses at one of the overlooks a pleasant young man with a portable amplifier explains the work in progress at that point. Maps showing where to go and what to see around the project are handed out.
Near one of the overlooks, visitors enter a building which is a big show in itself. In the entrance corridor there are illuminated maps showing the main features of the project. Next the visitors watch a diagrammatical movie which explains what is being done to the great river and how the power will be distributed. Finally the visitors enter a sort of grandstand confronting a row of closed-circuit television sets.
The cameras feeding these sets are located right down in the construction areas which are closed to sightseers. But they can stand in front of TV to their hearts' content watching the swarms of men, the big cranes, trucks, rollers and other machines at their work. It is a far cry from the little peek holes provided in board fences where sidewalk superintendents usually crane necks to see what is going on.
As many as 7,000 visitors take advantage of these facilities in a single day. Most of them belong to the garden variety of American tourist out to see the sights, but there are also many who have an interest in the future of the St. Lawrence Valley. The New York State Council of Parks held a meeting there recently, and its members studied the project thoroughly. Others go to the authority with suggestions, helpful hints and criticisms.
Mr. Moses has written out a big order. If he can create a place where power and industry combine with recreation and esthetic values, he will have achieved a long-sought goal. Conservationists, fishermen, hunters, wildlife students and those who have enjoyed the beauties of the big river are watching every move he makes. If he attains his goal, the St. Lawrence Power Project will stand as a model for other such projects over the nation.
WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT AREA
LONG SAULT CANAL (SEAWAY DEV. CORP.)
ST. LAWRENCE STATE PARK
LONG SAULT I.