The Niagara Power Coalition will hire Nixon Peabody to provide legal counsel as the seven-member group finalizes an agreement with the New York Power Authority to receive low-cost power beginning in August.
Coalition members said they hope the law firm will be aboard in time for its meeting Wednesday.
The coalition consists of the Towns of Lewiston and Niagara, the City of Niagara Falls, Niagara County, and the Lewiston-Porter, Niagara-Wheatfield and Niagara Falls school districts.
The group decided in November to issue a public request for proposals for new legal counsel, and unanimously approved Nixon Peabody at a special meeting Wednesday.
"They've appeared before the state Public Service Commission for 30 years and are used to dealing with the New York Power Authority," said Warren Kahn, the Lew-Port school district attorney who was on a three-member panel that interviewed respondents to the request for proposals. "They have the experience; they have the knowledge."
Other respondents to the coalition were: Washington, D.C.-based Sullivan & Worcester; Philips Lytle; and Daniel P. Duthie, an independent attorney from Long Island.
The coalition agreed that Duthie would be considered second in line for any additional work.
Kahn said Nixon Peabody charges $380 to $405 per hour for attorneys based out of the firm's Rochester and Buffalo offices, and $200 to $300 for associates. He said they are not asking for a retainer and may offer a blended rate.
"It's a lot of money in this area but not too bad for their experience," Kahn said.
He passed out the resume of Stanley W. Widger Jr., a partner in the Rochester office, who would likely attend coalition meetings. It states that Widger has appeared before the state PSC and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, representing state and other agencies.
The coalition's former legal counsel, Buffalo-based Harris Beach, was paid $406,623 by the coalition for work performed during the past two years.
Acting Coalition President William Ross, a county legislator, said Harris Beach and the coalition mutually decided it was time for that politically connected firm to leave the coalition's service. County Republican Party Chairman Henry F. Wojtaszek is an associate at Harris Beach.
Town of Lewiston Supervisor Fred Newlin openly questioned many of the charges that firm billed the coalition in the past year. He said he called for the coalition to publicly bid for legal representation since 2004, when he began attending coalition meetings.
Newlin said Tuesday he was happy with the choice and looking forward to working with new legal counsel.
The new firm will be asked to get up to speed quickly, as the coalition is planning to meet with the Power Authority and representatives of National Grid next week to finalize an agreement that will guide how 25 megawatts of electricity are passed on to the public entities. One megawatt can power 800 to 1,000 homes.
The low-cost power is part of a host municipality agreement the coalition signed in 2005 in support of the authority's application to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to operate the Niagara Power Plant for another 50 years.