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Power agreement may emerge soon

A new contract between the Niagara Power Coalition and the New York Power Authority could be made public by mid-February, the Niagara Falls School District attorney said Monday.

The Power Coalition signed an agreement in 2005 for 25 megawatts of at-cost power and cash payments -- valued at $146 million to $1.2 billion over 50 years -- in return for supporting the relicensing of the Niagara Power Project.

The new agreement would spell out how the low-cost power will be distributed starting Sept 1, Falls schools attorney Angelo Massaro said.

One megawatt of electricity can power 800 to 1,000 homes.

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 has been negotiating with the Power Authority on the distribution agreement since June.

Massaro said a meeting held last week with the authority and National Grid, which will help the seven coalition members distribute the power, went "very well."

"It looks like hopefully we'll conclude our transaction with NYPA and go to our respective boards in mid-February with the positions of a tentative agreement," Massaro said. "At that time, the agreement would be made public."

Massaro declined to comment on potential allocation methods. Some coalition members, like the school districts and Niagara Falls, expressed interest in converting their shares of power into cash but Power Authority officials said last fall they don't consider that an option.
Meanwhile, a state comptroller's audit of the Niagara Power Coalition is almost done, Niagara County Legislator William L. Ross said Monday. Ross wants Gene Hart, auditor in the comptroller's Buffalo office, to present it to the board at a full meeting next month.
The audit was requested after allegations were raised about payroll moves allegedly made by longtime former coalition chairman Mark S. Zito. Zito was accused last year of collecting $1,000 a year more in salary than the coalition board had approved, and of having the money placed on the tax returns of his son and girlfriend.
Besides the audit, the FBI has taken an interest in the Power Coalition. Its agents collected financial records from the coalition more than eight months ago, and interviewed figures including Ross and a former attorney for the coalition, R.J. Stapell. The latter had recommended Zito repay $17,180 he received in 2004 and 2005.

Also on Monday, the coalition met to discuss its vacant president and treasurer positions. Ross is currently acting president, and has completed some of the group's financial tasks.

An appointment committee is looking into whether Patrick D. Brown could be the treasurer. He is a certified public accountant who works for Brown & Company, the firm the coalition uses for its annual audit.

It was also suggested that Samuel M. Ferraro, Niagara County economic development commissioner, might be asked to serve as president.


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