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OFFICIALS BEGIN TO PLAN STRATEGY FOR RELICENSING

Tuesday will be a busy day, as local officials begin work on a negotiation strategy for relicensing of the Niagara Power Project.

The first meeting of Niagara County's new Stakeholders Committee will be held at 6 p.m. Tuesday in the Courthouse.

The 23-member panel, which includes elected officials and representatives of business, labor, environmental groups and the Tuscarora Indian Nation, will receive an orientation in the process that is to be followed to relicense the Power Project.

The meeting will follow a 1 p.m. session of the Erie County-oriented Relicensing Consensus Committee in the Region 9 United Auto Workers office in Cheektowaga.

Niagara County Planning, Development and Tourism Commissioner Samuel M. Ferraro is co-chairman of the Erie County group and is expected to play a key role in the Niagara committee.

The New York Power Authority's 50-year license runs out Aug. 21, 2007. In 2002, the Power Authority must inform the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the grantor of the license, of its intention to renew. The actual application isn't due until 2005.

But with the economic impact of the power plant and the possibility that local governments will try to pry large amounts of money out of the untaxed Power Authority, local officials say it's definitely not too soon to get started.

In fact, the Niagara Power Coalition, consisting of the county and the cities, towns and school districts in western Niagara County, has been working on the issue for several years.

Legislator Lee Simonson, R-Lewiston, said all these groups do not add up to a duplication of effort. He said the Stakeholders Committee "allows sectors of the economy to express their views" who aren't represented by the other two groups.

Niagara Power Coalition Chairman Mark S. Zito said the coalition has hired Washington, D.C., attorney Carol A. Smoots to lobby the federal power regulators on its behalf.

The county and each of the six western Niagara County municipalities and school districts have just been billed $5,900 each for this year's legal work. Another $10,000 was obtained in a "member item" doled out by State Sen. George D. Maziarz, R-North Tonawanda.

Smoots has already succeeded in getting the coalition recognized as a intervenor in the current relicensing process at the Power Authority's Franklin D. Roosevelt Power Project in St. Lawrence County.

Besides learning the ropes of relicensing, Zito said he hopes the coalition will be able to help force the Power Authority to take actions there which can be used as a precedent for the Niagara relicensing. In lieu of taxes, it wants payments to St. Lawrence County and four affected towns; it wants "surplus land" owned by the Power Authority to be surrendered to the towns; and it has asked for an allocation of FDR Project power for use in Niagara County.

Power Authority spokesman Jack Murphy said the authority is barred by law from making payments in lieu of taxes on power plants, but it has offered St. Lawrence County a $20 million trust fund that would be invested to yield the localities $1.3 million a year for the next 50 years. Murphy said that proposal was rejected.

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