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Serving the communities of Massena and Potsdam, New York
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Hidy challenges Assemblywoman Russell to push for monetization

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MASSENA - Mayor James F. Hidy issued a challenge on Friday to Assemblywoman Addie Jenne Russell to be more aggressive in her efforts to get legislation that would allow the River Valley Redevelopment Association to monetize 20 megawatts of power.

“There was a bill adopted in the senate that was supported by Sens. Ritchie and Griffo (Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie and Joseph A. Griffo),” Mr. Hidy said. “They both strongly support the monetization of power, which will greatly benefit several communities in our area.”

However, in order for a bill to become a law, it must be passed by both the senate and assembly, as well as signed by the governor,and so far it has only been approved by one of those three parties.

“Currently the bill is in the assembly, where it seems to have died,” Mr. Hidy said. “I think Assemblywoman Russell needs to be more aggressive to revive the bill in the Assembly.”

Ms. Russell said she was working on gaining support for the bill last summer when she simply ran out of time.

“Everybody has so many things they are trying to get pushed through all in that one month,” Ms. Russell said, adding the bill has not slipped her mind.

“I’ve had discussions with the governor’s office within the last couple of weeks,” she said, adding she considers the 20 megawatts “the last piece. This is kind of the last piece. The 20 megawatts and what these communities can do with it. I would like to see the community have a say in deciding what the monetized power is used for.”

Town Supervisor Joseph D. Gray said it’s his understanding that is where the problems with the bill begin.

“I know the bill is not being introduced in the assembly, and I’m told the governor is not in favor of this deal unless he controls it,” Mr. Gray said. “He wants to set up a board, which would be comprised primarily of people he appointed to it.”

In 2010, the St. Lawrence River Valley Redevelopment Agency was given $16 million and 20 megawatts of power by the New York Power Authority to be used for economic development. NYPA had agreed to allow the agency to sell on the open market any power not used to help businesses and use the proceeds for its own economic development projects. The sale of 20 megawatts of power would equate to about $3 million a year.

The ability to sell unused power was left out of a deal signed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo last year granting the 20 megawatts to the agency, and the agency is seeking state legislation to make it happen.

State lawmakers representing the north country said last month they were working on two parts of a bill that would be introduced at the start of the next legislative session in January.

Mrs. Russell said she discussed who will control the money and the types of projects the money can be used for with the governor’s office in late November.

“I want to make sure that the monetized value of power is used to create as much economic development as possible and it’s used for community-based projects,” Mrs. Russell said at that time.

State Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, said she was working alongside Energy and Telecommunications Committee Chairman Sen. George D. Maziarz to flesh out the bill’s particulars. “This bill is a priority for me, and it’s important that this monetization turns into the jobs for our community,” Mrs. Ritchie said.

But before the bill can be reintroduced in January, she said, the River Agency will have to decide whether to support a proposal by Gov. Cuomo to establish a separate economic development council, not the River Agency, to allocate the proceeds from the sale of the power.

Mr. Hidy said Ms. Russell needs to be more aggressive in ensuring the legislation clears the assembly and supporting the people of her legislative district.

“Should the monetization of power come to fruition, as it already has in Western New York, it could result in millions of dollars to help communities and school districts fund economic development and capital projects. There are a lot of things we could do with the money,” he said. “I think Addie could do a lot more than what she’s doing, and this is another example of that. She has to convince other members of the Assembly and Sheldon Silver that there are people north of the thruway.”

Ms. Russell said she’s continuing to speak with her colleagues about the bill and she’s hopeful that a version of it could be passed during the next session, but until the governor agrees to support it she’s see no point in pushing the assembly to do so.

Adding that she’s not sure whether or not the senate has even passed such a bill, she said, “Passing the Senate’s legislation to monetize the 20 MW of power will not mean that it will become law. I am interested in making laws, which requires the governor’s signature. Passing a bill through the legislature knowing that it will not become law is simply political theater, which is a disservice to my constituents,” she said. “Passing the senate legislation will also shut down any further talks that could result in monetizing the 20 MW for the foreseeable future. Passing the senate proposal at the beginning of a new legislative session will doom any chance of monetizing the power for local benefit, and lock in the status quo.”

Mr. Gray though said he would like to see the bill passed, which would then put the onus on the governor.

“When we created the RVRDA we signed a contract with the power authority, which provided us with money and 20 megawatts of power, which to date we have been unable to monetize, because two governors, Paterson and Cuomo, have refused to look at it,” he said. “The governor, like I did, took an oath to uphold the constitution and the laws of the state of New York. This is a legally binding contract that the governor is refusing to honor.”

Like Mr. Hidy, Mr. Gray said it is unfair that Western New York has been allowed to monetize their power allotment, when the RVRDA has not.

“Why can’t we do the same?” he said, then answering his own question.

“There aren’t as many votes here as there are in Western New York, but we pay taxes just like everyone else, work just like everyone else, vote just like everyone else and deserve to be treated just like everyone else. Massena didn’t choose the power authority, we didn’t choose the seaway and we certainly didn’t choose to have our way of life and our river changed, as well as having 45 miles of our shoreline tied up and be rendered virtually useless to local people and business enterprise.”

Mr. Gray said should the RVRDA not be allowed to monetize its power allotment in the near future it may be time to shift strategy.

“We’ve played nice so far and we expect the state to honor the contract, which was signed in good faith,” he said. “The state has not done that, so now it’s likely we’ll have to take more aggressive action.”

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