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Court appeal planned for share of hydropower deal

Twenty-three local governments and school districts will file an appeal Monday challenging the federal regulators who cut them out from benefits from the relicensing of the Niagara Power Project, an attorney for the group said Friday.

Members of the Public Power Coalition and the Eastern Niagara Power Project Alliance will ask the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., to review the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission decision, said Carolyn Elefant, a D.C.-based attorney.

The appeal is another attempt by communities that include Amherst, Grand Island and the Tonawandas as well as 17 municipalities and school districts in eastern Niagara County to get a bite of the settlement with the State Power Authority.

"We feel that we have presented a strong case for settlement consideration but have been ignored," Tonawanda Supervisor Ronald Moline said.

Federal regulators denied appeals by the two groups Sept. 20, saying, the "economic and environment issues raised on rehearing had no merit."

Elefant said the federal court appeal will argue that the commission departed from precedent in March when it granted the Power Authority a 50-year license.

In other cases, the commission has issued 30-year licenses, she said.

The Public Power Coalition consists of the cities of Tonawanda and North Tonawanda, as well as the towns of Amherst, Grand Island and Tonawanda. The Eastern Niagara Power Project Alliance includes the City of Lockport.

Wrapping up the appeals process could take six to nine months, Elefant said.

North Tonawanda Mayor Lawrence V. Soos noted that the two groups also are looking for help from state and Congressional leaders.

The groups want face-to-face meetings with Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer, as well as the Western New York delegation of state and federal representatives, Soos said.

The two coalitions believe the Power Authority has additional low-cost power to distribute, Soos said.

A spokeswoman for the authority declined to comment on Soos' statement.

Under the renewed license, the seven-member Niagara Power Coalition, which includes Niagara County and municipalities and school districts in the western portion of the county, will receive 50 years of annual cash payments and allocations of low-cost electricity. Buffalo and Erie County reached an agreement for cash payments.

Adjusted for inflation, the benefits package for Erie and Niagara counties, including funding for the Niagara River Greenway, totals $391 million.

e-mail: abesecker@buffnews.com

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