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Gray: Hydropower debate turning into political football

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MASSENA - A spokesperson for the Local Government Task Force criticized a county legislator for politicizing efforts to keep the proceeds of unallocated hydropower in the hands of the communities negatively impacted by Massena’s hydrodam.

Massena Town Supervisor Joseph D. Gray accused County Legislator Vernon D. “Sam” Burns, D-Ogdensburg, of playing “political football” in his criticism of a proposal to limit the use of proceeds from three to nine megawatts of unallocated hydropower to an area within 40 miles of the New York Power Authority’s Massena dam. That proposal was submitted by Sen. Joseph A. Griffo, R-Rome, and Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton.

“It’s a shame this has become a political football,” Mr. Gray said. “(The proposal is) not about St. Lawrence County. It’s about compensating Massena, Louisville and Waddington for the negative impacts of the NYPA dam.”

Mr. Gray expressed opposition to the proposal to make the use of that hydropower available to any community in the county, pointing out that communities such as Ogdensburg and Gouverneur are not impacted by NYPA. He feels Massena, Louisville and Waddington have a right to the hydropower because of the loss of millions of dollars in taxes from NYPA-owned property along the shoreline of the St. Lawrence River.

Under Mr. Burns proposal, which Mr. Gray suggested also has the support of Gov. Cuomo, communities such as Morristown and Gouverneur may be eligible to use funds from that hydropower, even though they are located approximately 50 and 60 miles away from the hydro facility.

“The state fails to understand that this (hydropower) is supposed to benefit the host communities - not a community 45, 50 miles away from here,” Mr. Gray said.

Mr. Gray also found fault with State Senator Patricia Ritchie’s proposal to limit use of that power to a 40-mile radius of the hydrodam, saying he would prefer the power limited to a 30-mile radius. He pointed to the Western New York Power Proceeds Act, which limited use of unallocated hydropower to a 30-mile radius of the NYPA dam in Niagara Falls, signed into law by Gov. Cuomo in 2012.

“If the state can pass that legislation, why can’t they pass legislation for the host communities in St. Lawrence County?” Mr. Gray said. “We are being treated like second class citizens in the north country.”

Mr. Gray said the Local Government Task Force was in support of a 30-mile radius for that power, would accept the 40-mile radius and had not discussed the proposal to limit its use to St. Lawrence County. He also said the task force was “absolutely against” any proposal that would open use of the power to Franklin and Jefferson counties, beyond the 30- or 40-mile radius of the power dam.

Mayor James F. Hidy expressed support for Mr. Burns’ plan, saying the hydropower should be used to the benefit of the county. However, his preference is for a proposal that’s comparable to the 30-mile radius approved for the Niagara Falls region.

“If it can’t stay within St. Lawrence County’s borders, I’m in favor of a deal like the one Western New York got. That’s what I’d like to see,” Mr. Hidy said.

Mr. Gray feels that state lawmakers are ignoring the economic and financial needs of the north country by not discussing proposals that would limit use of unallocated hydropower to the communities affected by the presence of NYPA.

“As always the people in Albany - our elected officials, the staff of the governor’s office - are the ones working on this stuff with no input from us, and with little to no regard for the taxpaers of the three towns (effected by the NYPA),” Mr. Gray said.

Legislator Jonathan Putney, chairman of the St. Lawrence County Legislature, added his voice to the debate in a statement he released on the issue late Tuesday night.

“Massena, Louisville, Waddington and Lisbon were all directly impacted by the St. Lawrence Seaway project and power dam. The allocation of the 20 megawatts of power should not go outside the framework of the current RVRDA agreement. I do not support efforts to extend the power to Franklin County, which is within the 40 mile radius of the power project,” he said.

“In regards to any unallocated preservation power, of which I understand that there are only 2 megawatts unallocated at present, that power should remain under the existing framework and agreement unless we could somehow secure an improved agreement. No other regions are entitled to compensation for our areas permanent loss of assets. Why we would want to give away economic advantages at any time much less right now when we need them the most is difficult to comprehend,” he said.

Local officials familiar with the language in the state Senate budget bill say it is focused on the unallocated preservation power, which they have said is in the three to nine megawatt range, not the 20 megawatts that has been allocated to the River Agency under the relicensing agreement.

The unallocated preservation power is part of the 12 megawatts that had been directed to General Motors before it closed its Massena plant. Three megawatts are unallocated and another six megawatts had been directed to the now shuttered paper mill in Newton Falls.

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