The New York Power Authority is returning to the table to negotiate with local communities as part of the 10-year review of the Massena dam’s relicensing agreement.
“I was pleasantly surprised,” said Massena Supervisor Joseph D. Gray, a member of the St. Lawrence Local Government Task Force. “I’m not totally shocked.”
Kevin C. Murphy, Wladis Law Firm, Syracuse, which is representing the task force during the review, said NYPA called Thursday to re-establish talks.
“It’s a good sign,” he said.
Dates have not been set yet, but Mr. Murphy said they were discussing available times for this month.
Talks broke off late last month after the task force rejected what it described as a “take-it-or-leave-it final offer” that offered little new compensation for St. Lawrence River communities. NYPA claimed that the task force wanted more than the $2 million per year for the next 40 years that it already receives to boost town general funds, which was beyond NYPA’s legal authority.
“No one is looking to pad town budgets,” Mr. Gray said. “I think we have offered some creative solutions and we look forward to discussing them further.”
Mr. Gray said he thought an op-ed piece in the Watertown Daily Times written by the Wladis Law Firm went a long way toward bringing NYPA back to the table because it laid out the task force’s desires for a fair and equitable settlement more in line with agreements made in Western New York.
Shortly after the $115 million settlement was reached with St. Lawrence communities in 2003, NYPA negotiated 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.
“We don’t expect a dollar for dollar match,” Mr. Gray said. “We know there’s more votes in Buffalo than here.”
In an emailed statement, NYPA spokesman Michael A. Saltzman reiterated the authority’s position.
“The Power Authority is committed to continuing our discussions with the Local Government Task Force in the review of the 2003 settlement agreement for the federal relicense of the St. Lawrence-FDR hydroelectric plant,” he wrote. “As we have said repeatedly, NYPA cannot legally provide monies toward local governments’ general operating funds. If the focus of the upcoming discussions is on items that are legal for NYPA to do, we should be able to advance this process.”
State Sens. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, and Joseph A. Griffo, R-Rome, welcomed the news that talks are restarting.
“I want to thank NYPA’s CEO, Gil Quinones, for listening to the voices of north country residents and their representatives and continuing to work toward an acceptable deal for both sides,” Mrs. Ritchie said in a statement.
Mrs. Ritchie said she, Mr. Griffo and state Sen. George Maziarz, chairman of the Senate Energy Committee, urged NYPA to return to the table.
“The north country sacrificed land, economic opportunity and tax revenues to play host to the power dam, and they only seek to be treated fairly,” Mr. Griffo said in a statement. “Resuming these talks is a positive sign for the communities and for the region.”
Louisville Supervisor Larry R. Legault said he thought political pressure helped bring NYPA back to the table.
“We’re not just going to go away,” he said.
The task force wants assistance for projects that will boost economic development, not town budgets, he said.
“We’re looking to increase the community’s general payment,” he said.
That money would be available if NYPA paid property taxes, he said.
The financial circumstances of the north country are worse than when the agreement was first signed, he said.
“Look at the economic conditions and you can see they have changed,” Mr. Legault said. “They need to have an open mind.”