Alcoa's decision to go ahead with a $600 million expansion project at its Massena operations is a prime example of private industry and government working together for the well being of the company and the people who depend on the continued success of aluminum manufacturer for their livelihood.
The long-awaited news caps an over 50 year partnership that has preserved hundreds of jobs critical to St. Lawrence County during the national economic downturn.State and Alcoa officials announced over the weekend that the company has agreed to make a $600 million investment to modernize its Massena operations in exchange for 478 megawatts of low-cost hydropower, or about 60 percent of what is generated by the St. Lawrence-Franklin D. Roosevelt hydroelectric project under a 30-year contract starting Jan. 1.
Five governors beginning with Mario Cuomo and ending with his son Andrew joined the New York Power Authority, and local union leaders to work with Alcoa to assure that Massena remains the center of aluminum smelting in North America.
The current contract expires at the end of the year. The new agreement could be extended for 10 years beyond 2045.
The company will make an initial investment of $42 million in site preparation and engineering work at its East plant over the next five years. The agreement means power from the generating facility will remain in Northern New York for the next 40 or 50 years while enabling Alcoa's north country facility to be competitive in the global aluminum market.
Failure to reach an agreement between Alcoa and the New York Power Authority that might have curtailed or closed Massena operations would have been devastating to St. Lawrence County with its 12 percent unemployment rate.
Instead, the NYPA pact calls for Massena to preserve 900 well-paying north country jobs that will reassure anxious workers and businesses of long-term employment opportunities that will keep Northern New Yorkers here. It was a welcomed balance to the latest disappointment in the saga of the defunct Newton Falls Fine Paper mill.
The Alcoa plant, however, comes with a cautionary caveat. Alcoa has to receive approval from the federal Environmental Protection Agency for its proposed $245 million cleanup of the Grasse River. It is essential that the EPA give Alcoa the go ahead and resist calls for costlier clean-up plans that could jeopardize Alcoa remaining in Massena.
Fortunately for the North Country and Alcoa's workers one of the key intermediaries between Alcoa and NYPA has been Senator Charles E. Schumer who now is working with EPA to assure that this major investment in the future of the North Country comes to fruition. Senator Schumer's visit to Massena Monday strengthens the case for EPA to accept Alcoa's clean-up plan.
The new agreement also requires the company to donate $10 million to a North Country Development Fund. That will come on top of the $190 million in state funding that has been awarded to Northern New York over the past two years to fund dozens of projects through the North Country Regional Economic Development Council to support tourism, housing expansion, agriculture and small business enterprises.
The funding puts Northern New Yorkers in an enviable position of being able to direct their own economic growth and job-creating opportunities that can build on assurances of Alcoa's long-term contributions to the region.