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Massena officials optimistic for better NYPA deal

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MASSENA - The Local Government Task Force has formalized an agreement to hire the Wladis Law Firm, Syracuse, in an effort to convince the New York Power Authority to agree to review the terms of the now decade old 50-year relicensing agreement.

The Massena Central School and the Massena Town Board were the final two entities to give their approval for the Local Government Task Force to hire the law firm.

“They (Wladis) have started doing their initial work and should be reaching out to the New York Power Authority soon,” Massena Town Supervisor and Local Government Task Force Co-Chairman Joseph D. Gray said. “Wladis is chomping at the bit. They want to get going.”

The 2003 relicensing agreement provided benefits to the host communities surrounding the St. Lawrence-FDR Power Project. Within the agreement was a provision: NYPA and the host communities every decade could review and “discuss issues not anticipated” in 2003.

Mr. Gray has said the Local Government Task Force feels the relicensing agreement reached with the St. Lawrence-FDR project municipalities was considerably less fair than the package for entities within the Niagara Project boundaries in Western New York.

“I also don’t think that NYPA knew how much more electricity they would be generating with the new turbines. It’s a lot,” Mr. Gray noted.

Mayor James F. Hidy agreed, “After a recent Powerpoint presentation it seems the spotted snail and other animals were awarded better treatment than the people of these communities,” he said, referring to the communities within project boundaries.

“As a member of the task force, the village of Massena is enthusiastic about joining the members in an effort to better the agreement,” Mr. Hidy said. “It’s our feeling that we were certainly shortchanged by both some members of the original negotiations team representing the municipalities, but we had certainly been taken advantage of by the power authority itself.”

Town Councilman Albert N. Nicola acknowledged the Local Government Task Force might have fared better in its original negotiations on the relicensing agreement if it had retained legal counsel over a decade ago. “If the original group had hired a firm like this, we might not be here today,” he said.

Mr. Hidy noted the deal was made even worse by the power authority not even honoring the terms of the original “subpar” deal.

“It boggles my mind when two parties enter into an agreement, those being the several host communities and NYPA, and then NYPA takes the agreement back and alters it to their favor. In my opinion that agreement should be null and void and the task force should be given the opportunity to negotiate a better deal for our communities,” he said. “Our intent this time around is to stand up to the bullying tactics from the state of New York and the power authority.”

Mr. Gray said Wladis will be paid a retainer of $100,000 and can obtain additional fees based on a percentage of any additional revenues the Local Government Task Force gains from the talks with NYPA.

But he said the government entities likely won’t have to dip into their own coffers to pay the legal fees. “He has recommended the monies owed the entities for a high flow adjustment for 2011, expected to be in $190,000 range, to be used pay the Wladis contract. The high flow in 2011 marked just the second time the entities have earned a high flow bonus since the relicensing agreement was signed in 2003.

Mr. Gray has said the entities will share in any expenses necessary during the negotiations and will also share any additional revenues that are generated by the talks with NYPA, he said.

Revenues and expenses for the members in the task force are split on a percentage basis: St. Lawrence County, 32.78 percent; town and village of Waddington, 12.02 percent; town of Louisville, 8.96 percent; town of Massena, 14.2 percent; village of Massena, 1.1 percent; Madrid-Waddington Central School, 9.28 percent; and Massena Central School, 21.66 percent.

The review, if it moves forward, will provide an opportunity for the two parties to see if significant circumstances have changed since the agreement was signed in 2003. Local officials, citing issues such as the closing of the GM Powertrain plant, believe that is the case.

Eight entities receive a portion of NYPA’s $2 million annual Community Enhancement Fund distribution. St. Lawrence County Treasurer Kevin M. Felt said in a December 2012 memo to Local Government Task Force members that the monies had been received from the power authority. He said the village of Massena received $22,000; town of Massena, $284,000; Massena Central School District, $423,000; town of Louisville, $179,200; town of Waddington, $160,266.67; village of Waddington, $80,133.33; Madrid-Waddington School District, $185,600; and St. Lawrence County, $655,600.

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