who is "American Dams"?
August 9, 2018 2:25 AM   Subscribe

Do you have any information on, or experience with, a new nonprofit called American Dams? It was organized just last year, in Bedford, Va., and its website, which does not come up on a google search, is here. It is listed but not reviewed on Charity Navigator or Guidestar, with no mission statement, no assets, and filing a 990N (financial assets under $50K). Coincidentally or not, it came into being at the same time that a small dam in a nearby town was slated for removal.

"American Dams" is opposing dam removal by offering to take over all financial and maintenance responsibilities for the dam, arguing that it is historically significant. (Its organizer appears, from LinkedIn, to have had a career as a vendor supplying utility companies with lighting products (which logically might include the mighty and controversial Dominion Power Co.). He says that he is just "a dam guy.") Also opposed is a local (but politically powerful state-wide) college and its elected or appointed alumni, which uses upstream areas for training. Advocating removal are environmental groups and the state agency. Anyway, seeking information or insights on this group, which is asking "just trust us."
posted by mmiddle to Law & Government (14 answers total)
Just trust them with what, exactly? Money, their arguments about why the damn needs to stay, the operation of the dam itself?
posted by jacquilynne at 5:17 AM on August 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

I don't have a lot of information, but I can verify that they're an actual nonprofit, and, from a legal standpoint, everything is legit.

I don't see any reason why it would be unusual for an interested party to form an organization in order to support its interests. That's the way the system works. You're able to do the same thing on the other side. And of course it wouldn't have been founded until the dam removal was proposed. Would you expect the guy to create an organization 20 years ago on the off chance that, 20 years in the future, someone would propose to remove a dam and then he could swoop and in and say "my well-established organization is here to save the day!"? It's not like people started organizing anti-Trump resistance in 1992.
posted by kevinbelt at 5:24 AM on August 9, 2018 [2 favorites]

The Virginia State Corporation Commission provides a little information here. Elsewhere on the SCC website, you can use American Dams' unique SCC ID number to read its articles of incorporation and identify the three founding board members and their registered agent. Everything seems to be in order.
posted by carmicha at 5:29 AM on August 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

Because of money and risk. It’s odd that they have no apparent assets yet are guaranteeing what could be major annual expenses (they request nondisclosure agreement as to funds) - that’s one reason I wonder if they’re a shell for Dominion, which would not be welcomed. The risk part is that if they and an undeclared parent company gain legal control, and the (admitted, partial) goal is power generation, then a remote owner-controller would have incentives to make changes that ignore the interests of the town in which the dam is located. (Additional details: one death at it some years ago; crumbling at its base).
posted by mmiddle at 6:47 AM on August 9, 2018

I can't imagine Dominion power would bother with all that subterfuge.
posted by fshgrl at 7:10 AM on August 9, 2018 [4 favorites]

It’s odd that they have no apparent assets yet are guaranteeing what could be major annual expenses (they request nondisclosure agreement as to funds)

Could you expand on what you mean by the nondisclosure part? I'm not sure I understand that -- they're a nonprofit that's already admitted publicly they have no assets but are also asking that no one disclose that?

If they just formed and this is their first project, it's not unreasonable that they don't yet have much money on hand; asking donors to support an organization that isn't actually preserving any dams (yet) would be hard sell, and without a dam to preserve they presumably don't have many expenses for which they would need to have money on hand to meet.

That said, I'm unclear on how they could actually guarantee meeting all of the costs of maintenance, repair, and renovation as a new organization, or what their plan to meet those costs is; they could very well be a wholly legitimate non-profit that's not a front for anyone, any yet also be one that can't make the guarantees it's offering. As a human thing, it doesn't seem odd at all that a non-profit with no assets would make a huge guarantee: people make bad judgments all the time.

Looking at the website and some of the filing information, I'm inclined to think that this is a passion project by people who really do like dams but are underestimating the costs of the project (or who are over-estimating their ability to raise money), and not a trojan horse for an energy company -- maybe there are local politics in your area that would make that approach appealing, but I'd generally expect a power company to just throw money at the issue rather than engage in this particular form of skullduggery.

'Just trust us' is a really bad idea when it comes to major municipal planning issues, even if everyone is entirely on the up-and-up. You're not wrong to be skeptical.
posted by cjelli at 8:01 AM on August 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

Is the dam currently publicly-owned? (I assume it is; if not, why wouldn't the current owner just sell it to Dominion directly?) If so, there would likely be a public hearing before any sale could take place. That would be a good place to ask your questions. You might also argue for a clause in the sale agreement prohibiting future sales to Dominion, other energy companies, etc.

My suspicion, which should be taken with a grain of salt because I'm just some guy on the internet, is that the nonprofit wants to buy the dam, but then rent out the operating rights to someone else. They don't need a lot of resources in order to do that.
posted by kevinbelt at 8:19 AM on August 9, 2018

You might want to reach out to some of the new state delegates who have been elected on platforms that explicitly include fighting against Dominion's various lobbying, dark money, and astroturfing campaigns. Although they both represent a different part of the state (Manassas), Lee Carter and Danica Roem might be good ones to start with - Roem has a background as an investigative reporter, and Carter is a demsoc who really focuses on anti-corporate issues and environmental abuses from Dominion.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 8:20 AM on August 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

I don't see any reason why it would be unusual for an interested party to form an organization in order to support its interests. That's the way the system works.

And the system sucks, and non-profits are so loosely scrutinised that it's very easy to turn Concerned Americans For Nice Things into a front group for Nasty Inc.

I think the best suggestion is to reach out to state legislators, just to see if it's on their radar.
posted by holgate at 9:18 AM on August 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

Which guy says he's just a "dam guy"? The registered agent is a local lawyer, born in Bedford.

The "get involved" contact number on the American Dams site is linked to industry veteran Wayne Dyok. Per that last link, "Dyok has more than 35 years of domestic and international experience in Federal Energy Regulatory Commission licensing, engineering design, environmental studies, and energy planning on hydroelectric projects... Dyok has managed major hydroelectric licensing projects for the California Department of Water Resources, Seattle City Light and Dominion Generation." (Emphasis not theirs.)

"Dominion Energy Generation Marketing, Inc., headquartered in Richmond, Virginia, is the electric energy trading and marketing operation of the Wholesale Marketing Affiliates of Dominion Energy (NYSE: D)."
posted by Iris Gambol at 10:30 AM on August 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

Is this part of the Scott's Mill Hydro Project started by Liberty University? Wayne Dyok's name is one of their contact people on this website.

Not sure exactly what they are trying to workaround, but when you mentioned a local college with political power in that area, LU is what immediately came to mind.
posted by MultiFaceted at 11:36 AM on August 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

@jacquilynne - trust them as to any money involved, to operate it without further incident, and to maintain it as an historical feature.
@fshgrl - it seems excessive, but Dominion is deeply distrusted because of its pipeline work.
@cjelli - they have not yet specified nondisclosure request, but my guess is funding source(s).
@kevinbelt - yes, dam is currently owned by the town; located in prominent and scenic place in town.
@Iris - the promoter, not registered agent, is the "dam guy". Thanks for details on Wayne Dyok.
@Multifacted - interesting Dyok connection, though this is a very different dam, and does not seem to be connected to AmDams.
@trees and @holgate - good suggestion!

Thanks, all - this was a test of my skepticism, which is still strong but willing to change.
posted by mmiddle at 12:41 PM on August 9, 2018

Wayne Dyok (owner of H20 EcoPower) headed the panel "The Value of Dams in Response to a Changing Climate" at the National Hydropower Association’s "Waterpower Week in Washington" (an annual 3-day, multi-conference event) in May 2017.
posted by Iris Gambol at 1:11 PM on August 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

Dyok owns the domain for the website which he got in 2016 (link clicks through to "I'm not a robot - click that to see info). It's registered though to an address in CA. (Not linking here, so as to not dox - but it's listed in the registration).

My interpretation is Dyok runs a rather inactive non-profit that advocates for dams which is his professional specialty. Whether he benefits through messaging and education, or financially is not clear. It's worth noting that the website does not actually have an active link to donate. I'd just give him a call (number is on the above linked registration page) and ask him what's up. My four big questions would be 1. What is the deal with the non-disclosure? 2. How is your org going to pay for all this? 3. Who funds you? 4. What other dams does your non-profit manage?
posted by Toddles at 9:17 PM on August 9, 2018

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