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Does NYPA really think we’re that stupid?

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After roughly 10 meetings over the last three months, the New York Power Authority has walked away from talks with the St. Lawrence Local Government Task Force over a 10-year review of the 2003 relicensing settlement to operate the St. Lawrence-FDR power dam in Massena.

Not that anyone is all that surprised.

NYPA has maintained for the last 10 years that the settlement it reached with communities — which by our math amounts to about $401 million all told including $115 million in cash payments over 50 years, recreational improvements, funding for an eel impact study and a defunct aquarium project — is equitable to the $973 million settlement it reached in 2005 with the city of Buffalo and Erie and Niagara counties to operate the Niagara power project in Lewiston.

Our math comes out to $401 million, and here’s how: $26 million for the defunct St. Lawrence Aquarium and Ecological Center, $115 million in cash payments over 50 years to St. Lawrence County, the towns of Massena, Louisville and Waddington, the villages of Massena and Waddington and the Massena and Madrid-Waddington school districts, $66 million for environmental projects (which includes a $24 million study of the dam’s impact on eels), $23 million for habitat improvement projects, $9.6 million for improvements at the Wilson Hill Wildlife Management Area, $4.5 million for an eel passage through the dam (the eels made out very well in this deal), $3.9 million for future habitat improvement projects, $1 million for research and environmental education in the vicinity of the project, $116 million for recreational improvements and a $36 million community enhancement fund.

NYPA’s math places the value of the St. Lawrence deal at $473.7 million. I had never seen that figure before NYPA spokeswoman Connie M. Cullen tried to set us straight on how much the deal was worth Friday. I scoured our archives for mention of that number. It never appeared. I’m at a loss for how NYPA derived it, so we are requesting a breakdown justifying that number. Stay tuned.

Then again, going into this process we knew the Power Authority was using some creative math to demonstrate how our deal and the nearly $1 billion deal Western New York communities got were somehow comparing apples to apples.

It’s not, unless one of those apples is solid gold and studded with diamonds. Does the Power Authority really think we’re that stupid?

They argue that the two settlements are equitable based on power production at each plant and population density. Well, this deal has nothing to do with population density. It’s a question of impact.

The Power Authority still controls an obscene amount of our waterfront, on which it pays no taxes. NYPA flooded huge swaths of land in the 1950s when the project was built, forcing people and businesses to move and confiscating even more of our land. The dam forever changed the St. Lawrence River, altering its natural flows, controlling its water levels, and having an adverse impact on wildlife. Let’s not forget that recreational use of the river is also affected by the dam’s impact on water levels.

State and federal lawmakers in 2005 made that same argument about impact when demanding that NYPA give some rationale for the disparity between the two settlements.

Back then, former U.S. Rep. John M. McHugh demanded that NYPA return to the bargaining table with St. Lawrence communities to make the situation right. He called the Niagara settlement a betrayal.

“Simply put, this development is a total abandonment of the promise NYPA made that the applications for license renewal between Niagara and St. Lawrence would have a sense of balance and maintain a semblance of equity,” Mr. McHugh said in a news release. “That promise has been broken, and I think it’s an unbelievable situation.”

“Unbelievable” was perhaps the best word to describe the situation then, and it’s the best word to describe the current situation. NYPA can try to say our communities are not entitled to any more money. I beg to differ.

Their take-it-or-leave-it proposal to the task force included the Northern New York Power Proceeds Act — which was intended to follow through on something NYPA had already promised the St. Lawrence River Valley Redevelopment Agency but wrests control of proceeds from the sale of 20 megawatts of low-cost power away from the River Agency and bestows it on some outside board to be appointed by Albany — and the St. Regis Mohawk land claim deal recently reached by the state and the county that really has nothing to do with NYPA. The absurdity is stunning.

NYPA needs to right this wholly inequitable situation immediately and recognize that no, we really aren’t that stupid.

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