By ELIZABETH LYONS
Two north country state senators have teamed with a Western New York lawmaker to try to get the New York Power Authority back to the negotiating table with a community task force on the 10-year review of NYPA’s relicensing settlement to operate the St. Lawrence-FDR power project in Massena.
Sens. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, Joseph A. Griffo, R-Utica, and Senate Energy Committee Chairman George D. Maziarz, R-Newfane, jointly called on NYPA in a news release Monday to return to the table after the Power Authority abruptly ended talks with the St. Lawrence Local Government Task Force last week.
“The shoreline communities sacrificed so much to make the St. Lawrence Power Project possible, and the impact is still being felt today,” Mrs. Ritchie said in the news release. “The Power Authority needs to reach a common sense compromise that addresses the needs of these communities, and we are urging that they get back to the table to resume negotiations. It’s time to find common ground.”
The senators sent the news release to NYPA officials, who responded that they are committed to negotiating with the St. Lawrence Local Government Task Force, but that the group has rejected the Power Authority’s offers. The task force includes the towns and villages of Massena and Waddington, the town of Lousiville and the Madrid-Waddington and Massena school districts.
“We are offering significant and substantial benefits such as a $40 million discount in electric rates for businesses, farms and dairies, between now and 2018, and building new recreation facilities to attract large tourist events, all of which go beyond the hundreds of millions of dollars in current NYPA funding from the license,” a statement from NYPA spokesman Michael A. Saltzman said. “Regrettably, the LGTF has ignored all of these proposals and is solely interested in funds that can be used for general local government purposes. As the LGTF is well aware, this cannot be done, as it is outside NYPA’s legal authority. While significant progress has been achieved, we look forward to a mutual, good faith effort that ends in a comprehensive agreement that benefits all members of the St. Lawrence community.”
Task Force Chairman Joseph D. Gray said the task force is pleased to have the senators’ support. He said that the task force wants to resume talks, but that NYPA’s actions last week contradict its stated desire to negotiate in good faith.
“It’s NYPA who walked away,” he said. “They said to us, ‘We consider this review closed.’ How much clearer can you get? They said it was their last offer, take it or leave it, and we are done with this review.”
Mr. Gray also said the Power Authority is not being entirely truthful in its assertion that the task force wanted extra money for their municipalities’ coffers.
“We asked for an economic development fund to benefit the towns, which could benefit the Chamber of Commerce or the Business Development Corporation,” Mr. Gray said. “But we do think the three towns are owed money as well, just as the Western New York communities got a blank check for some stuff on top of their settlement.”
Mr. Gray said that NYPA officials had asked the task force to “get creative” in its requests, but that all ideas were rejected outright, including a discount for residential and commercial electricity users within the project boundary.
“They said this power may be available if Alcoa doesn’t come back online and they may be able to allocate it possibly through 2018, but only for small businesses, dairies and farms,” he said. “The average rate payer gets no benefit from that. We asked them to give everybody a break.”
Mr. Saltzman said in response to Mr. Gray’s comments that NYPA repeatedly has publicly expressed a desire to continue negotiations, but that its offers must follow the law.
“The Power Authority has proposed major additional benefits that are consistent with what we are allowed to do under state law,” he said in an email message. “We hope that Mr. Gray and other rmembers of the LGTF will work with us in developing a resolution that is within our legal capability.”
Mr. Maziarz, whose district includes the Niagara dam in Lewiston that was the subject of a $973 million relicensing settlement NYPA reached in 2005 with Erie and Niagara counties and the city of Buffalo, said NYPA must be fair to the north country.
The St. Lawrence relicensing settlement included $115 million in payments over 50 years to the task force communities and St. Lawrence County and millions of dollars in recreational and wildlife habitat improvements in those townships. NYPA has placed the value of the St. Lawrence settlement at $473.7 million.
“NYPA has an obligation to treat host communities equitably, whether they are in Western or Northern New York,” Mr. Maziarz said in the release. “But if NYPA won’t talk, they’re not living up to their end of the deal. It’s time to get back to the table and reach an equitable deal for the north country.”