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Who should benefit from low-cost NYPA power is debated


State lawmakers representing St. Lawrence County are at odds over a state Senate proposal to use proceeds from the sale of unused St. Lawrence River Valley Redevelopment Agency power for economic development projects within a 40-mile radius of Massena’s hydrodam.

The proposal, championed by the River Agency and backed by state Sens. Joseph A. Griffo, R-Rome, and Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, needs more work before it can get the support of Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa, she said Friday. She said the Senate’s plan is flawed because it could allow communities outside of St. Lawrence County to benefit.

River Agency officials since the organization’s start in 2008 have sought to capitalize on 20 megawatts of low-cost power that had been promised but not awarded until last year by the New York Power Authority for economic development. Agency officials have planned to sell any power not allocated to aid new and expanding businesses and keep the profits to fuel the River Agency’s community development fund and other initiatives to spur growth.

Previous attempts to gain the ability to sell the power through its agreements with NYPA failed to garner the support of both former Gov. David A. Paterson and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. The River Agency is seeking state legislation to make it happen.

A proposal floated in the Senate last week that could become part of that chamber’s 2013-14 budget bill calls for proceeds from the sale of unallocated power to be managed by a five-member board appointed by the governor and for that money to fund initiatives within a 40-mile radius of the St. Lawrence-FDR hydropower project in Massena. Under the Senate’s proposal, 15 percent of the money must be used for energy-related projects and initiatives. The rest can be used to help private and nonprofit businesses upgrade buildings and equipment, acquire land and undertake other growth-related activities, and help support tourism and marketing initiatives. Retail endeavors are excluded, as are residential developments, gambling, sports and hospitality businesses, and government lobbying and election activities.

Mr. Griffo said Friday that north country senators are not willing to bend on the proposal because “it makes the most sense. It’s reasonable based on what we want.”

He said there has been some resistance from Mr. Cuomo’s office, and he has gotten conflicting information about whether the Assembly will support it.

He said if the proposal is ultimately not included in the Senate’s budget bill, it will be dealt with as separate legislation.

“It’s still being discussed,” he said.

Asked what objections Mr. Cuomo might have, governor’s office spokeswoman Olympia Sonnier said only that “The governor’s administration was proud to work with NYPA to add 20 megawatts of power to be used for economic development in north country, and we will continue to engage with the North Country Regional Economic Development Council and elected officials to look for additional opportunities for growth.”

Mrs. Russell said her objection is simple. Language stating the proceeds will benefit those within a 40-mile radius of the Massena hydro facility should be changed, Mrs. Russell said. She said since the power was intended to help St. Lawrence County, that’s where its proceeds should stay. A 40-mile radius would include part of Franklin County.

“I think we are all in agreement that it should be for the benefit of St. Lawrence County, and not go beyond those boundaries,” she said.

The geographic radius and the creation of a governing board, dubbed the Northern New York Power Proceeds Allocation Board, were included in the proposal to mimic a similar agreement to use proceeds from the sale of unallocated power from the Niagara Power Project in Western New York, Mrs. Ritchie said.

She said Mr. Cuomo’s office insisted that the proposal closely mirror the Western New York framework. The Niagara agreement covers a 30-mile radius from the Niagara project, but that number would not work for St. Lawrence County, she said.

“To include the entire town of Lisbon, which is one of the towns included on the River Agency, we had to bump it up to 40 miles,” Mrs. Ritchie said. “Otherwise only half the town of Lisbon would be included.”

She said she has also been informed that Assembly support may hinge on whether Jefferson County can also benefit from selling the power.

“My job is to advocate for those who have been involved in the negotiations and the communities they are representing on the River Agency. They don’t want to agree to three counties,” she said.

She would be open to language restricting the 40-mile radius to inside St. Lawrence County’s boundaries.

“If the assemblywoman can get the governor to buy into language saying it will benefit St. Lawrence County only, I certainly would be supportive of that,” Mrs. Ritchie said.

Mrs. Russell said she doubts all sides can reach an agreeable solution before the state’s budget is passed. The budget is due April 1.

“The Senate including it in its budget has gotten more focus from the administration looking at this issue,” she said. “It likely would become a priority in the next several weeks.”

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