HOPF: Hydropower returns to the public eye

Posted: Feb. 22, 2013 5:44 pm Updated: Apr. 5, 2013 8:15 pm

Third Ward Alderman Paul Havermale last week requested that council members be updated on any expenses the city may have incurred on its unsuccessful plan to develop hydroelectric power on the Mississippi River since they were last briefed 18 months ago.

Aldermen can usually get the answer to any city-related question they have by simply asking the appropriate official in-person or by phone -- or by reading the weekly packets they are provided. But they often bring up issues on the council floor to either get it on the record or to show constituents that they are working on their behalf.

And, on occasion, to try to score some political points.

Havermale, a consistent hydropower opponent, was questioning $69,000 in hydropower expenses that he admitted did not appear to be recent. Comptroller Ann Scott told The Herald-Whig after the council meeting that she believed most of it was related to paying off the $6.6 million in bonds the city issued with council approval in 2009 to pay licensing fees.

Tracking city spending is a fundamental responsibility for aldermen, preferably at the time the money is spent, and maybe that's all Havermale is trying to do.

Or, as some political watchers suspect, it is a way to try to get hydropower back in the public eye.

In addition to opposing most hydropower initiatives since it was first introduced in 2006, Havermale also is the campaign chairman for fellow 3rd Ward Republican Alderman Kyle Moore, who is trying to unseat two-term incumbent Mayor John Spring.

And tying Spring to the $5 million the city spent on the project before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission pulled the rug out from under Quincy two years ago is a centerpiece of Moore's campaign.

In an eight-page mailer sent to selected Quincy voters last month, Moore devoted an entire page to what was labeled "John Spring's Failed Hydropower Project."

What wasn't mentioned, however, was that while Spring was a vocal proponent of the $100 million project, along with several Quincy business and economic development organizations, it was able to move forward only because it received overwhelming backing by the City Council every step of the way.

With an aldermanic form of government like Quincy's, a mayor can propose and support, but it's ultimately up to a majority of the 14 council members for anything to happen. So blame and praise must be shared.

But political campaigns are political campaigns, and Republicans have been planning to link Spring to hydropower since FERC unexpectedly dismissed the city's preliminary permit and licensing application for Lock and Dam 21 in February 2011 -- overlooking the involvement of aldermen and the consultants they approved hiring.

The theory was that Spring -- or another Democrat had he chose not to seek a third term -- would be vulnerable because voters would be disenchanted about the $5 million spent on a project that went bust for reasons still not fully explained by FERC.

Neither side has released any polling data, so it's not known whether the issue has gained any traction with most Quincy voters. The outcome on April 9 could tell us.

Until Havermale's request, records show aldermen had not publicly discussed hydropower finances on the council floor since Oct. 31, 2011.

With the mayoral election a little more than six weeks away, it's unlikely this is last time hydropower will be brought up.