Tonawanda plans its future without Huntley plant - The Buffalo News
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Tonawanda plans its future without Huntley plant

Town of Tonawanda officials have been asking residents for ideas for transforming the closed Huntley Power Station property and the River Road industrial corridor for months.

Now they're ready to talk about what they've learned.

"Tonawanda Tomorrow," a partnership between town leaders, residents and businesses to develop a plan that grows the economy in the River Road industrial corridor, will discuss some of the community's goals for the Road corridor and the shuttered Huntley Plant at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 16 in the Phillip Sheridan Building Community Room, 3200 Elmwood Ave. The meeting is open, but participants are asked to register to attend at tonawandatomorrow.org.

Town of Tonawanda Director of Planning and Development James Hartz said results of a survey of town residents will be presented. He said about 700 people took the survey. Most had mostly positive feedback about Tonawanda's future, Hartz said.

"They are happy the initiative is underway and they are looking forward to not having pollution in their backyard. They are also looking forward to clean energy and the new, cleaner economy with better paying jobs," said Hartz. "There's a lot of hope about the new economy."

Hartz said part of the planning for the town's future involves examining the current work force and planning for what types of training workers will need.

Tonawanda Tomorrow is funded by a federal U.S. Economic Development Agency power planning grant that Tonawanda received as a direct result of the Huntley Power Plant closing. The grant is designed to help communities that experience a coal-to-energy plant closing or other job losses in the coal industry.

"It's a long process. It doesn't happen overnight," said Rebecca Newberry, executive director of Clean Air Coalition of Western New York. "Our goal is to make sure that the decisions that we are building for are the visions that residents and workers in Tonawanda want to see."

Tonawanda Supervisor Joseph Emminger agreed, saying that all citizens, workers and businesses owners should be part of the planning process.

Hartz said there are brownfield remediation grants available for redevelopment of the Huntley Power Plant site and neighboring areas.

"For us there's a land use question on River Road - not only what to do with the 90-plus acres that the power plant sits on, but also what to do with its landfill, which is another 160-acres further up the road," said Hartz.

He said there is a lot of potential at that site and they want to work on their town zoning to be ready for that transition.

The Huntley property is privately owned by NRG Energy. Hartz acknowledged it's possible that NRG could refuse to sell it.

"Ideally we are going to put as much pressure as we can," said Hartz. "We don't want to look at a moth-balled power plant for the next decade on the waterfront."

But Tonawanda Tomorrow is also a concerted to develop the entire industrial corridor, not just the Huntley site.

Hartz said in addition to Huntley, there are also a number of capped landfills along the corridor, which cannot be used for housing, but can be cleaned up and reused for parks or other clean industry.

Hartz said there are also other beautiful waterfront properties in Tonawanda and the town plans to hold a forum for developers in the spring to showcase these other properties.

Tonawanda Tomorrow leaders worked together with the New York State Labor Federation, AFL-CIO and the Kenmore Teacher's Association to persuade state lawmakers to include $30 million in the state's 2016-17 budget to reimburse the town and Kenmore-Tonawanda School District for tax revenue it lost when the Huntley Power Plant closed.

In addition to the Town of Tonawanda and the University at Buffalo Regional Institute, other key partners in Tonawanda Tomorrow are the WNY Area Labor Federation, the Buffalo Center for Arts and Technology, the Clean Air Coalition of WNY, Erie County, the U.B. Regional Institute and Delta Institute, a Chicago-based nonprofit which helps communities transition after a coal plant closes.

Tonawanda Tomorrow plans to continue to hold community meetings, with another strategy session planned for some time in May and a a final session planned in June.

 

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