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LAWMAKERS UNANIMOUSLY RATIFY PACT WITH POWER AUTHORITY

Ending what Chairman William L. Ross called "a 10-year quest," the Niagara County Legislature Wednesday unanimously ratified an agreement with the New York Power Authority for as much as $300 million worth of benefits over the next 50 years.

The Power Authority would give the county cash and discount electricity as part of the renewal of its license to operate the Niagara Power Project in Lewiston.

The City of Niagara Falls, the towns of Lewiston and Niagara and the Niagara Falls, Niagara-Wheatfield and Lewiston-Porter school districts also willreceive Power Authority cash and electricity as part of the agreement by the host communities with the tax-exempt state agency.

In all, the Power Authority is offering them benefits totaling more than $1 billion over the life of the new license.

"This is a turning point in our relationship with the New York Power Authority," said Legislator Lee Simonson, R-Lewiston. "They represent 25 percent of our tax base in Niagara County, which is not taxable."

Early this year, Simonson became the Legislature's representative on the Niagara Power Coalition, the group of local governments bargaining with the Power Authority. The coalition was co-founded by Legislator Dennis F. Virtuoso, D-Niagara Falls, who represented the county for a decade before being replaced for political reasons by the GOP-controlled Legislature.

"We're making history tonight, and it's bipartisan history," Ross said. "The pioneer work was done by Legislator Virtuoso, the finish work by Legislator Simonson." He had both men stand to receive the applause of their colleagues.

Simonson said of Virtuoso, "He certainly put in the bulk of the work. The county owes him a debt of gratitude."

Simonson noted that 11 other stakeholders are still bargaining with the Power Authority for benefits under the new license. "We want to make sure what we negotiated will be there when it's time to sign the agreement," Simonson said in explaining why the county was moving fast to ratify an agreement which was made three weeks ago and not publicly disclosed until last week.

For the county, the deal offers a power allocation that will run all county buildings for 1 cent per kilowatt-hour for half a century, a savings of 40 percent on its current electric bills. Also, the Power Authority will pay the county $1.04 million in cash next year and $650,000 a year for 50 years. The annual cash payment is tied to the value of Niagara Project electricity and could rise in the future, but can never fall below $650,000.

In addition, the county will receive $390,000 a year for recreational projects that must be approved by the Niagara River Greenway Commission that Gov. George E. Pataki created in September.

The commission's main role will be to set up a linear park along the Niagara River from Buffalo to Youngstown, but the county's recreation projects need not be located in that riverfront strip.

On another economic development issue, the Legislature voted unanimously to support construction of a new terminal at Niagara Falls International Airport. It urged the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, which owns the airport, to complete the job in 2005 "so our community can take a giant step forward toward economic recovery."

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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