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'We do not want Huntley to become another Bethlehem Steel'

Town of Tonawanda Supervisor Joseph H. Emminger said Tuesday he wakes up every day thinking about the closed Huntley Power Generation Station.

NRG Energy was the town's biggest taxpayer until it closed the plant in 2016. So Emminger wants to make sure the Huntley site gets redeveloped.

"We do not want Huntley to become another Bethlehem Steel," he said.

"I don't know what they (NRG) are going to do with the site, but it's not going to sit there another 45 years," vowed Emminger. "We have to keep pressure on (NRG)."

Emminger, along with state Sen. Chris Jacobs, R-Buffalo, Assemblyman Robin Schimminger, D-Kenmore, and Kenmore-Town of Tonawanda Schools Interim Superintendent Stephen A. Bovino met Tuesday in the Ken-Ton Administration Building to discuss additional tax relief in the 2017-18 state budget to aid communities hit hard by the closing of the Huntley plant.

The current five-year Electric Generation Facility Cessation Mitigation program, which provided 80 percent of nearly $6 million in lost tax revenue this year, will be restructured and extended with a new seven-year payment schedule which will provide an additional $5.4 million over the next seven years to all three entities. The school district will receive approximately $2.7 million in extra aid, the town will receive approximately $1.8 million more and the county approximately $1 million more.

Schimminger said the funding will decrease over the seven years and said that replenishing the tax base, not just at NRG, but across the entire River Road corridor, will be the ultimate goal.

David Gaier, a spokesman for NRG Energy told The Buffalo News in January that there were no immediate plans for the property and on Tuesday he reconfirmed his position.

"It just does not get redeveloped overnight," said Gaier on Tuesday. He said they would likely not remediate the property until they know what kind of company wanted to come in, but he was not aware currently of any outside interest in the property.

Jacobs agreed that they did not want the Huntley site to turn into another vacant industrial site like the former Bethlehem Steel plant, where the property sat vacant for decades until the company went bankrupt.

"I hope in these days there is a greater sense of corporate responsibility, but if it's not internally driven by NRG it will externally be put upon by all government entities, from the local level to the federal level," said Jacobs.

Bovino said NRG was the school district's largest taxpayer before it closed the Huntley site, and the additional funding from the state mitigation fund will help the district in this transition.

He said the $3 million a year the district had been receiving from NRG each year helped to pay for 30 to 50 district employees. Last year, the district received $2.2 million in mitigation funding, which Bovino said was a "tremendous help" and helped it to avoid making staff cuts. He said the $2.6 million in additional funding will help the district plan for the future.

"The last thing we want to do is go back to the taxpayer," said Bovino.

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