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Lt. Gov. Duffy announces Alcoa to keep 900 jobs

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MASSENA — Lt. Gov. Robert J. Duffy came to Massena on Saturday to announce formally a deal that will keep Alcoa at its current location for the next several decades and preserve at least 900 area jobs.

“This factory and this company are so important, not only to the Massena region but also to the entire state,” Mr. Duffy said at a presentation Saturday afternoon outside the Alcoa East plant.

“They are vital to our economy, they are vital to the region, and this is a win-win for everybody.”

Under the deal that guarantees it a continuing supply of low-cost hydroelectric power from the New York Power Authority, Alcoa will invest an initial $42 million in the next five years to modernize its Massena East plant, plus $10 million toward a North Country Economic Development Fund. The contract also calls for Alcoa to preserve a minimum of 900 jobs. About 1,100 workers are employed at the two Alcoa plants.

Over the long term, Alcoa is committing to a $600 million modernization of its facilities that will keep it operating here for decades, providing the assurance that north country leaders have been awaiting anxiously.

“Modernizing Massena will help us move farther down the aluminum cost curve and secure Alcoa’s place as a vital part of the north country’s economy for decades to come,” Alcoa Executive Vice President Christopher L. Ayers said in a release.

Judge Eugene L. Nicandri, a Massena resident and trustee of the New York Power Authority, noted, “The new contract will, for the first time, have a fixed job commitment.”

These minimum job commitments are becoming increasingly common in NYPA contracts, Mr. Nicandri said.

“We want some guarantee that’s going to make jobs,” he said.

In return, NYPA will provide low-cost hydroelectric power to the plant for the next 30 years, with options to extend the contract by an additional decade.

Despite the celebratory tone of the announcement Saturday, there is one more condition that must be satisfied. For the agreement to go through, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency must approve a proposed $245 million remediation plan for the Grasse River to clean up the industrial pollutants that Alcoa and Reynolds Aluminum dumped from the 1950s to the 1970s. Alcoa must foot the bill.

If the EPA turns down the proposal, insisting on a stricter, more extensive project that could cost $1.3 billion, Alcoa’s commitment to the region could be in doubt, many fear.

But Mr. Duffy said state representatives and Alcoa officials are confident the deal will be approved soon. An official decision is expected in April. “Hopefully sooner than later,” Mr. Duffy said.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y, will be at Alcoa on Monday to discuss the cleanup plan.

Under the agreement with the state, NYPA will provide Alcoa with 480 megawatts of power. This is about 60 percent of the output of the St. Lawrence-Franklin D. Roosevelt Power Project, equal to enough electricity to power about 240,000 homes.

“We want to be partners with Alcoa,” Mr. Duffy said. “We want Alcoa to stay here.”

Negotiations for the updated contract have been ongoing since 2008, with the deadline for an agreement set for today. Alcoa was one of NYPA’s first customers.

Its original contract was created in 1955, and it was set to expire at the end of the year.

Michael J. Legault, a pot tender at the plant, took a break from work to watch the announcement with some of his fellow Alcoa employees.

“I feel good,” he said. “I’m glad we’ve got a future here. A lot of people were anxious about it.”

Mr. Legault has worked for Alcoa for seven years, and hopes many more are ahead.

After the presentation the employees filed back inside to continue another day’s work.

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