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Lobbying firm to aid task force in NYPA relicensing review

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A Syracuse law firm is preparing to do battle with the New York Power Authority on behalf of the St. Lawrence Local Government Task Force to get St. Lawrence River communities due compensation from the state-controlled power-producing agency.

The task force has initiated a 10-year review of a 2003 settlement NYPA reached with St. Lawrence River communities, school districts and St. Lawrence County to renew a 50-year license to operate the St. Lawrence-FDR power dam in Massena. Task force members believe the settlement significantly shortchanged the north country. Shortly after the $115 million settlement was reached, NYPA forged two deals totaling $973 million with the city of Buffalo as well as Erie and Niagara counties for a 50-year license to operate the Niagara power project in Lewiston.

The Wladis Law Firm has been retained by the Local Government Task Force to facilitate the 10-year review. Its attorneys and task force members are slated to meet with NYPA representatives Wednesday to make sure all parties understand their respective positions, Wladis attorney Kevin C. Murphy said Friday.

Mr. Murphy said NYPA already has indicated that it feels it has held up its commitments under the settlement, and that the Niagara and St. Lawrence settlements are equitable based on the number of people affected by those projects, the power generated at each facility and a number of other factors.

“How they suggest the two things are equivalent, I don’t know,” Mr. Murphy said.

He said NYPA’s claims that the Niagara project generates eight times more power than the St. Lawrence project are based on maximum production capacity in optimum conditions and grossly overstate actual generation, which is less than twice the power generated in Massena. He also points to the amount of land each project encompasses — 33,649 acres at St. Lawrence versus 3,546 acres at Niagara, in addition to St. Lawrence easements totaling 569 acres and Niagara easements totaling 312 acres.

Mr. Murphy also said that some recreational improvements NYPA promised are yet to be finished, including boat launch work at Little Sucker Brook and drainage improvements at Whittaker Park in Waddington, and dike rehabilitation and wildlife management improvements at Wilson Hill in the town of Louisville.

The economic landscape has also changed since 2003, with the bankruptcy of General Motors Powertrain in Massena and the recent announcement by Alcoa that it is closing its two potlines at its East Plant in Massena.

In a 2001 letter to former state Sen. James W. Wright, of Watertown, former NYPA Chairman and CEO Joseph J. Seymour said that if either plant were to close, “I can assure you we will work cooperatively with you and the governor to bring new jobs to the north country with low-cost NYPA power.” Mr. Murphy said that to his knowledge, NYPA has not done anything to offset the job losses at either plant.

Meanwhile, Mr. Murphy said, NYPA has remitted $1.16 billion to the state’s general fund in the past decade, according to information from the state Comptroller’s Office, and has budgeted future annual transfers to the state of $65 million, or 2 percent of its annual budget.

He said he is not surprised by NYPA’s stance that it has lived up to its end of the bargain, and he is prepared to outline the task force’s response at the meeting next week.

“Everyone agrees Niagara is the issue,” he said.

That being said, Mr. Murphy said the task force has no desire to take away from the Niagara settlement, and is merely looking for St. Lawrence communities to be compensated fairly.

“They don’t consider how much land they took and how much of it is under water,” he said. “We are trying to generate a list of demands that has some basis in reality that we can hang a number on.”

Task force Chairman Joseph D. Gray declined to comment Friday, saying he is reserving statements until after this week’s meeting.

“We have agreed to not negotiate in public, and I have been given no reason by NYPA to not observe those ground rules,” he said.

NYPA spokeswoman Connie M. Cullen also declined to comment, citing ongoing negotiations.

“It was agreed upon with the task force, at the initial meeting on the 10-year review of the St. Lawrence settlement, that it was in everyone’s best interest that the discussion remain confidential among those present until such time as a public announcement is appropriate,” she said in an emailed statement. “The Power Authority looks forward to continuing the dialogue with those on the Task Force.”

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