Bennington College students study waterway 'privileges' in North Bennington

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NORTH BENNINGTON >> A class from Bennington College is working with Bill Scully of the Village of North Bennington to generate a feasibility study on local dams and waterway privileges.

"Last year we talked about doing a feasibility study on some of the dams, some of the privileges we have around here," said Scully, who said the class expects to have the study completed in December. The class is entitled "The Village Privileges of North Bennington," and meets for four hours on Thursday afternoons. Scully and Susan Sgorbati, the director of the college's Center for the Advancement of Public Action, are the instructors of the class.

According to "North Bennington and the Paran Creek Past and Future: 1739-2005," a booklet produced by the Fund for North Bennington, "A 'privilege' is a legal term indicating that a person has been allowed to use a public waterway for a private use, generally as a source of power for mills. People who had been granted a "privilege" on a stream could build dams and create ponds to guarantee waterpower for their mills. At one time there were as many as 13 privileges along the creek."

Representatives from the class gave a report to the Village Board of Trustees, on which Scully serves, on Tuesday. Sgorbati's classes have worked with the village before, including when they performed the lion's share of the labor to bring LED streetlights to the village between 2013 and 2014.

"In earlier years," reads the class's description on Bennington's website, "one had to obtain a Privilege in order to use the public waterways. That term has since been changed to 'License' which has changed our perceptions; thus devaluing in name the right that comes with access to our most precious resource as a species. Through this course, entrepreneur, innovator, businessman and Bennington alum Bill Scully will collaborate with Susan Sgorbati, Director of The Center for the Advancement of Public Action and Bennington College students and faculty on a feasibility study for the Village of North Bennington in order that the Village can return to the former, more appropriate idea of engaging our watershed rights as first and foremost a Privilege. The primary objective is to study self-funding the long-term health of the watershed by developing the hydroelectric potential contained within that very resource. The absence of such stewardship is causal to the contamination that local municipalities are now experiencing. This model will be a plan for similar municipalities who are interested in taking active stewardship of their watershed and will carry with it many other benefits including accessing, decontamination, fish passage, education, job creation, collaboration, long term infrastructure stability and of course improving the world by accessing the renewable energy that caused the Village's formation."

"Bill and I spoke about this project and the idea that the town could really explore its ability to control its own energy sources," said Sgorbati, "That's the point of the feasibility study, just to look at it and decide if this is something people want to move forward with or not."

Scully is the owner of Hoosic River Hydro LLC, which has one hydroelectric plant currently operating in North Bennington, and hopes to have another operational in Pownal by next March.

Scully said that even if the feasibility study comes back positive, the permitting process for moving forward with the recommendations could take five to eight years.

The North Bennington Village Trustees meet the first Tuesday after the first Wednesday of every month at the train station on Depot Street. Full recordings of the meetings are available on Catamount Access Television, and on the station's YouTube page.

Contact Derek Carson at 802-447-7567, ext. 122.


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