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Group seeks to pressure Power Authority on aid

LOCKPORT -- Mayor Michael W. Tucker will be in Washington on Wednesday to try to pull strings aimed at winning concessions from the New York Power Authority for communities shut out of the Niagara Power Project relicensing talks.

Tucker, chairman of the Eastern Niagara Power Project Alliance, will be joined by representatives of the Public Power Coalition, a primarily northern Erie County group, at a meeting in Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's Capitol Hill office.

The goal of the session is to try to find out what pressure New York's senators and the local congressional delegation could bring to bear on the Power Authority, which is seeking approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for a new 50-year license for its hydroelectric plant in Lewiston. The current license expires Aug. 31.

As part of the application process, the Power Authority negotiated with the Niagara Power Coalition, which includes Niagara County and six municipalities and school districts in western Niagara County. As host communities, they won a billion-dollar package of cash and discount electricity.

The City of Buffalo and Erie County won $279 million from the Power Authority after Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, exerted some political pressure.

But all efforts by eastern Niagara County and northern Erie County governments to get on the gravy train have been repulsed.

The Eastern Niagara Alliance has 17 municipal and school members. The Public Power Coalition comprises the cities of Tonawanda and North Tonawanda and the towns of Amherst, Grand Island and Tonawanda.

"We've talked to [the Power Authority], but they're not taking to it," Tucker said.

"If FERC directs us to negotiate with those organizations, we would," Power Authority spokesman Michael Salzman said. "We think we've reached fair and equitable licensing and nonlicensing agreements with appropriate Western New York interests for a balanced approach to Niagara Project relicensing, to assure low-cost power to the region, including its businesses and industries."

Salzman added, "The commission dismissed their arguments for additional compensation in the final environmental impact statement [in the relicensing application]."

"We'll try a different angle," Tucker said. "Sen. Clinton looks like she's running for president. We're trying to get her attention and hope she can help redress the situation."

Nina Blackwell, a spokeswoman for Clinton, D-N.Y., said the senator will not attend in person. However, Josh Vlasto, a spokesman for Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., said his boss will be there. Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds, R-Clarence, also may attend.

Salzman said the Power Authority's view is that the eastern Niagara group should be trying to persuade Niagara County to give it a share of the power the county won from the Power Authority. A County Legislature resolution to do that was tabled in committee Wednesday.

Tucker said he had "mixed emotions" on that action. He said if Niagara County did distribute some power to the localities, like Lockport, that have water and sewer plants, as the resolution envisioned, it would save the city substantial costs.

But, he added, "It could potentially hurt the cause for the rest of the group." The Niagara County Legislature only has "so much power to go around. I want to make sure those members get something for all the work and expense they've put in."


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