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Editorial: Let the water flow

Town of Tonawanda officials seem to be doing the best they can to respond to the imminent end to the 19 million-gallon-a-day “raw” water provided to several local industries now that the Huntley Generating Station has shut down.

The town may build a pumping station that would provide up to 27 million gallons of water each day to five businesses: PeroxyChem, Sumitomo, 3M O-Cell-Sponge, Dupont and Indeck Yerkes.

But at $27.2 million it will be neither cheap nor quick, with three years to completion.

State and federal grants would come in handy but there is no guarantee, especially when the state is facing its own $4.4 billion deficit. Federal funds can get caught in Washington’s political gears.

Elected officials have to find a way because, as Town Supervisor Joseph Emminger said: “Water and sewer infrastructure is economic development.”

At stake are 3,000 jobs from the industries that relied for several decades on raw water from the Huntley plant. PeroxyChem, which employs 120 people at its Tonawanda plant and has been working with the town to find an alternative water supplier, said it uses the resource as a “non-contact coolant water.”

The Huntley closing in 2016 did not entirely cut off the resource. Instead of getting it for free, Huntley continued providing “cheap” water to local manufacturers. But the plant’s owner, NRG Energy, wants out of the water business, according to the town, although company officials dispute that conclusion.

To the local industries dependent upon flowing raw water, it really does not matter who said what and when. They just want to know whether the resource will be available.

The potential of the town building its own facility has been met with enthusiasm by the Clean Air Coalition, Kenmore Teachers Association and United Steelworkers, District 4. The collective group, in a letter to the editor, supported the idea of creating a facility that would be more accountable to the public. And there is the possibility that the town could raise $600,000 to $800,000 a year selling the water to other manufacturers. It also might take the sting out of losing $2 million a year from Huntley as a payment in lieu of taxes.

State Sen. Chris Jacobs, R-Buffalo, said he will push for state funding. He added that funding decisions remain with the governor and Empire State Development. Assemblyman Robin Schimminger, D-Kenmore, mentioned the state’s deficit and brought up the possibility of federal aid. He added the helpful reminder about the “ancillary consequences of closing Huntley” and said ESD and the governor should address the issue.

Getting necessary state help to fund the project may be too heavy an economic lift and federal funding may be wishful thinking. But it’s worth trying.

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