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St. Lawrence Local Government Task Force will negotiate for 20 megwatts

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LOUSIVILLE — Local control of proceeds from the sale of 20 megawatts of hydropower could be included in the review of a 2003 relicensing settlement between St. Lawrence County municipalities and the New York Power Authority to operate the St. Lawrence-FDR power dam in Massena.

At their meeting Wednesday, Local Government Task Force members said they would discuss in executive session whether the proceeds from the power allocation from NYPA would be included in review negotiations. The settlement agreement contains a clause calling for review of the deal after it had been in force 10 years.

NYPA granted the St. Lawrence River Valley Redevelopment Agency the 20 megawatts in 2012 to spur economic growth. In addition to the power, NYPA granted the River Agency $16 million left over from the defunct St. Lawrence Aquarium project to help correct what town and county officials have called significant inequities between the Massena dam relicensing settlement and the Niagara relicensing settlement in Western New York.

River Agency members had originally planned to sell on the open market any power that was not allocated to businesses and use the proceeds as they see fit. Since state officials balked at the idea because NYPA was not overseeing how the proceeds would be used, the ability to sell the power was left out of the contract granting it to the River Agency. The agency has since been working toward getting state legislation passed allowing it to sell the power and use the proceeds.

Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa, and state Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, have both said they would make the legislation a top priority this legislative session.

River Agency Chairman Robert O. McNeil and the agency’s attorney, Eric J. Gustafson, have called the process frustrating and said the governor failed to deliver on what was originally promised.

The St. Lawrence-FDR relicensing agreement gave the towns of Lisbon, Waddington, Louisville and Massena, their school districts and St. Lawrence County a total of $115 million. NYPA also agreed to pay $116 million for recreational and environmental improvements, and to transfer property within the project boundary back to adjoining landowners. The land transfer later was deemed unconstitutional because a public entity cannot legally transfer property to private parties for less than fair market value.

Shortly after the 2003 settlement was reached, NYPA forged a $973 million relicensing settlement with Western New York communities to

continue operating the Niagara power project.

The Local Government Task Force has already been in contact with NYPA to get the review underway.

“The plan was to exchange documents before tonight, but that has not happened yet,” Task Force Chairman Joseph D. Gray said Wednesday. “That is not for any specific reason. Between Alcoa and the power issues, we have been tied up. We hope to have that happen this week.”

The documents would include “issues about what should and should not be discussed in the review,” Attorney Kevin C. Murphy of the Wladis Law Firm, Syracuse, said.

Mr. Gray said that several economic factors, including the closure of the General Motors plant in 2008, call for a new settlement.

The task force’s first meeting with the Power Authority has been moved from Jan. 29 to Feb. 5. The closed meeting will include a few task force members and two or three NYPA representatives. Mr. Gray said a list of issues to be discussed from each of the parties to the settlement will be made public after the initial meeting.

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