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River Agency will meet with state reps over measure to cash in on megawatts

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CANTON – The St. Lawrence River Valley Redevelopment Agency is once again appealing to state lawmakers to pass legislation allowing proceeds of the sale of low-cost hydropower to be used for economic development.

The River Agency and St. Lawrence County Industrial Development Agency adopted a joint resolution Tuesday which requesting such legislation.

“We have been in talks with representatives, but so far we haven’t had any legislation,” River Agency Chairman Robert O. McNeil. “We would like to see this happen this legislative session.”

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo last year approved an agreement allowing the New York Power Authority to release 20 megawatts of low-cost power to the River Agency for economic development. The agency had already received $16 million from NYPA as part of a previous agreement. The money and power were sought as a means to make up for inequities between the NYPA’s 2003 relicensing settlement to operate the St. Lawrence-FDR power project in Massena and its settlement to operate the Niagara hydrodam in Western New York.

The River Agency as part of its initial agreement with NYPA for the money and power had sought to sell whatever power was not being used to aid businesses and use the proceeds for other initiatives. The first agreement was rejected by Gov. David A. Paterson because selling the power and giving the proceeds to the River Agency was outside the scope of NYPA’s powers under state law.

Language allowing the sale of the power was left out of the agreement that was ultimately approved by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

The River Agency is as a result seeking state legislation allowing the power to be sold and its proceeds used to spur growth.

The legislation River Agency and IDA officials seek mimics another measure that has already been approved for Western New York. The seven host communities of the Niagara project annually receive $5 million from the sale of 24 megawatts of power.

“That money goes directly to the general fund of those communities,” Mr. McNeil said. “We want to be able to do the same thing, but the difference is that monetization would go towards economic development. We just want the agreement we all originally agreed to be implemented.”

Being able to use proceeds from the sale of unallocated power has been central to the River Agency’s plan to fund its projects.

“I think it is important that everyone realizes, that even though we were granted $16 million three years ago for economic development, there are operating costs that are associated with doing that,” River Agency board member Vernon D. “Sam” Burns, Ogdensburg, said. “By having the ability to monetize either all or some of the 20 megs it will certainly help us move forward, giving a source of revenue that will sustain the River Agency in the future, so that we can provide more jobs.”

Mr. McNeil said selling unused power would give the River Agency more money to put toward community development grants. On Tuesday, the River Agency awarded $538,032 in community grants and loans. Under its agreement with NYPA, 5 percent of the agency’s budget is annually spent on community projects.

Mr. McNeil said he plans to meet with state lawmakers in the next few weeks in hopes of getting legislation introduced.

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