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Local leaders hire attorney or NYPA relicensing deal

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Town, village and county leaders have decided to hire the Wladis law firm to represent the local community as they review the New York Power Authority’s relicensing agreement at its 10th anniversary.

The Local Government Task Force voted unanimously to appoint the Wladis law firm of East Syracuse, at a rate of $225 per hour with a cap of $15,000. The task force will pay for the firm through approximately $33,000 left over from the 2003 agreement held in the county treasurer’s office.

Task force members have been discussing the upcoming 10th anniversary of the 2003 Federal Energy Regulatory Commission agreement which enables NYPA to run the St. Lawrence-FDR Power Project for 50 years. The agreement provided benefits to the host communities surrounding the power project.

Within the agreement was a provision: every decade, NYPA and the host communities could review and “discuss issues not anticipated” in 2003. Officials said the law firm would review whether NYPA had been fully compliant with the agreement terms and potentially negotiate additional benefits.

The task force’s goal in hiring the Wladis law firm is to see if local communities are entitled to further compensation from NYPA, in exchange for use of large portions of land along the St. Lawrence river. In June, the task force voted unanimously to appoint the Duncan, Weinberg, Genzer & Pembroke law firm of Washington, D.C, but later reversed their decision because the Duncan firm already provides legal assistance to the River Valley Redevelopment Agency, which some task force members saw as a conflict of interest.

“We’re trying to determine what more we think we should get, and I think an attorney will help us do that,” Massena town Supervisor Joseph D. Gray said. “What are we legally entitled to? How far are we entitled to push?”

St. Lawrence County and several towns, villages and school districts split a $1.7 million annual payment from NYPA, according to Deputy County Treasurer Robert Santamoor. Of that, $655,600 goes to the county, $284,000 to the town of Massena, $160,000 to the town of Waddington, $185,600 to the Madrid-Waddington Central School District, $179,200 to the town of Louisville, $133,200 to the Massena Central School District and $80,133 and $22,000 to the villages of Waddington and Massena, respectively.

Some officials feel that deal pales in comparison to the relicensing agreement NYPA finalized in 2007 with communities of Western New York in exchange for operating a hydroelectric dam on the Niagara River.

“I want to see that we have the opportunity to get our fair share,” Massena village Mayor James F. Hidy said. “These communities got screwed big time.”

NYPA is prepared to work with the host communities at the decade mark, spokeswoman Christine Pritchard previously said.

“We do believe that the benefits of the St. Lawrence-FDR Relicensing Settlement Agreement are comparable to those provided in the Niagara agreement given the size and output of the plants,” Ms. Pritchard wrote in an email.

The north country has received a total of $115 million in relicensing-related funding from the 2003 agreement through the third quarter of 2011, Ms. Pritchard said.

In comparison, as of November 2011, Western New York received more than $160 million in similar benefits since officials there agreed to a 50-year license in 2007.

The St. Lawrence Project is a 900,000-kilowatt facility. The Niagara power dam’s output is 2.4 million kilowatts, according to NYPA’s website.

However, Mr. Gray noted a discrepancy that Western New York communities have been allowed to sell unused power, but the RVRDA has not been legally allowed to sell its unused power. The RVRDA has been given 20 megawatts and selling some of that unused power to outside companies could generate millions, Mr. Gray said.

“I don’t understand why Niagara can (sell power) and why we can’t,” Mr. Gray said.

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