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Gray: NYPA benefits shouldn’t aid Jefferson County

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MASSENA - The Massena town supervisor, a spokesperson for the Local Government Task Force that represents towns, villages and school districts in the towns of Massena, Louisville and Waddington, is adamant that any benefits from 20 megawatts of power allocated to the River Agency should be limited to a 40-mile radius from the project’s boundaries.

Supervisor Joseph D. Gray said Massena and other government entities in the NYPA project’s boundaries would be severely hurt if the state officials extend those benefits to neighboring Jefferson and Franklin counties. Local officials have been reacting to reports out of Albany this week that an effort by state senators Patricia Ritchie and Joseph Griffo is running into opposition in the state Assembly and potentially the governor’s office.

Mr. Gray acknowledged local officials had not yet ascertained who was driving the effort to extend the benefits to all of Jefferson and Franklin counties as well as St. Lawrence County. “We don’t know where it is coming from or the motivation behind it,” he said.

Mr. Gray asked state lawmakers to instead sign a bill that would limit usage of that hydropower to a 40-mile radius from the St. Lawrence-FDR Project, a move that he said would include the city of Ogdensburg and Malone in Franklin County.

He said local officials had first sought a 30-mile limit to mirror similar legislation for the Niagara Project in Western New York. But he said local officials compromised to extend the benefits to Malone and Ogdensburg with a 40-mile boundary. “We have people living in Massena who work in Malone, work in Ogdensburg,” he said.

But he said officials in Massena, Waddington and Louisville weren’t interested in seeing the boundary extended to all of Jefferson and Franklin counties, “I believe the governments in the three towns and the school systems have a belly full of compromises over this issue. This is our line in the sand,” he stressed.

Mr. Gray believes the use of that hydropower is critical to the growth of the economy of St. Lawrence County. He pointed to economic drivers in other counties, such as Fort Drum in Jefferson County, in arguing why the benefits of the River Agency’s hydropower allocation should stay in the county.

“Jefferson County was not impact in any way, shape or form impacted by the NYPA project. Jefferson County has a federal payroll of $2 billion, and it seems like a new restaurant is opening on Arsenal Street in Watertown every other week. I don’t think Jefferson County needs much help with their economy. The economy of Jefferson County is doing just fine. Our’s is not,” Mr. Gray said.

He said the use of that low-cost hydropower is critical to retaining and developing new industry in the region. “If tomorrow a business wanted to expand and needed 10 to 15 megawatts of power, that power needs to be made available here,” he said.

The agreement would also allow the River Agency to monetize the hydropower if there were no longer customers, a potential revenue stream of millions of dollars a year.

“It’s millions of dollars if we are allowed to monetize all 20 megs. The folks in Albany and NYPA have been cagey about how much we would be allowed to monetize,” he charged.

Massena Mayor James F. Hidy agreed with Mr. Gray, saying the incentive of cheap hydropower is a critical tool to lure industry to a remote region, far from any interstate highways and in the state with the highest taxes in the nation.

Mr. Gray also pointed out that the allocation of the hydropower is a benefit local municipalities receive in return for the negative impact of hosting the NYPA power dam, which includes restricted use of approximately 40 miles of St. Lawrence riverfront property and the loss of property taxes on thousands of prime real estate in the project’s boundaries. “I think these benefits are put in place because of the huge negatives to hosting NYPA and the St. Lawrence Seaway,” Mr. Gray said.

Mr. Gray applauded Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa, for supporting a bill that would limit the allocation of that monetized hydropower to St. Lawrence County. He called attempts to expand use of monetized hydropower to Franklin and Jefferson counties “pure greed” on the part of those who stand to benefit from the hydropower.

“I don’t think the requirement for a 40-mile radius is greedy. We only wanted to be treated with fairness, and (the notion that) our elected officials in Albany can’t see that is a scary thought,” Mr. Gray said.

Mr. Gray also expressed concern that if the region were to lose a portion of its monetized hydropower, some industry may instead have to rely on the power from the Massena Electric Department, which could potentially raise the rates of MED’s customers.

Mr. Hidy reiterated his belief that the contract local officials signed with NYPA for the relicensing of the St. Lawrence-FDR Project paled in comparison with the benefits Western New York officials gained in their relicensing agreement for the Niagara Project.

“The relicensing agreements signed 10 years ago is lopsided at best. The disparity between the two agreements are substantial. It’s a crying shame what was negotiated here,” he fumed.

Massena’s mayor said he also listened at a New York Conference of Mayors breakfast a few weeks ago when Gov. Andrew Cuomo told government leaders from around the state not to come to the state with their hands out looking for money. He said he found it ironic that the state has a four-year agreement to siphons millions of dollars each year from NYPA’s coffers into the state’s general fund running from 2012-16. “That’s our money the state is taking, and it belongs in Northern New York. Governor, give us the money that we are generating in our backyard, and we won’t be coming to you looking for money,” he argued.

Mr. Gray said local government task force leaders are only seeking a tiny fraction of the profits generated by the St. Lawrence-FDR Power Project. “Our river generates billions of dollars for NYPA and the remainder of New York state. We are simply asking for several molecules of that benefit to come back locally,” the Massena town supervisor said.

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