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Falls power plant workers go unpaid, lose benefits

NIAGARA FALLS – Workers at the Niagara Generation power plant in Niagara Falls, which is facing a foreclosure, haven’t been paid in four weeks and also have lost their health insurance, a former employee said this week.

Mark Brown of North Tonawanda said most workers decided to quit, because they weren’t being paid anyway. Only four employees of the original 26 remain at the 56th Street site.

The plant is owned by Sterling Energy of Gary, Ind., which received a loan from the Niagara County Industrial Development Agency’s lending arm last year to help it to reopen the facility.

The mortgage holder, Ronald Roseman of Tampa, Fla., filed a foreclosure suit in State Supreme Court last month, saying Sterling quickly defaulted on a $6 million mortgage. Second in line for repayment is the Niagara County Development Corp., which loaned Sterling $500,000 and is still owed more than $470,000. More than a dozen local companies that did business with Sterling also are waiting to be paid.

William Harrington, the owner of Sterling Energy, did not return calls seeking comment this week, and the on-site business manager in Niagara Falls declined to be interviewed.

“The plant is not running, but the owner asked us to stay on to keep everything that we could operating,” Brown said. No electricity has been generated since May, he said. During the summer, pay was delayed several times and finally stopped, Brown said. “The owner is literally not telling us anything.”

He said the jobs at the plant, which burned 90 percent wood chips and 10 percent coal to produce electricity, paid $50,000 a year or more.

Brown said Sterling was taking $80 a week out of paychecks – when there were paychecks – to cover the health insurance.

“When they cut out the health insurance, I said, ‘That’s it,’ ” Brown said. He said he hasn’t been able to find a policy that will cost less than $200 a week.

He said the company owes him and others substantial sums, but Brown said, “There’s no guarantee they will pay me for time owed.”

email: tprohaska@buffnews.com