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POWER AUTHORITY OFFER REMAINS SECRET

Several Niagara County governing bodies are weighing an offer of money, low-cost electricity and land from the State Power Authority to win their backing for a 50-year license for the Niagara Power Project.

Members of municipal governments and school boards are being asked to approve the proposal in coming weeks, though prospects for public review of the deal with the Niagara Power Coalition, a local lobbying group, remain unclear.

Late last week, Mark Zito, coalition chairman, described the offer as probably as good as the group is likely to get. "When you actually see the size of the numbers they're offering, you're going to be impressed," said Zito, a Niagara Falls School Board member who co-founded the coalition.

The Power Authority, he noted, doesn't have to give local communities a dime.

"I think of it as justice," he said. "They think of it as charity. Either way, it's something good."

Zito wouldn't disclose how much money or electricity was involved. That would give other communities and negotiating groups too much leverage, he said. At least eight groups, from Native Americans to Erie County, have yet to settle, he said.

Zito said he has advised coalition members to keep terms confidential, as well; otherwise, "we're going to lose all that we've gotten, because you disclosed it in a manner that gave all this information to the other stakeholders that have something coming, and they got greedy."

The relicensing application is due next August, two years before the expiration of the current license, so competing groups still might have plenty of time to learn of the term of the offer made last week to the coalition, which consists of Niagara County, the City of Niagara Falls, the Niagara Falls School District, the Town of Lewiston, the Lewiston-Porter School District, the Town of Niagara and the Niagara-Wheatfield School District.

If the proposal is approved, coalition members will decide how to split the benefits, Zito said. It hasn't been determined yet how the proceeds would be divided, he said.

Lewiston Supervisor Fred Newlin said the Town Board, at its meeting Monday, will discuss the division of the proposed compensation package among communities and school districts. "We won't be going into dollar amounts, but we will be discussing percentages," he said.

Newlin would not describe the agreement's terms, citing the coalition's confidentiality decision.

Niagara Falls Mayor Vincenzo V. Anello also declined to describe its terms.

"I can't release them today. I don't have the final proposal," he said. "I know that I have to discuss it very, very soon with my own City Council."

Anello said devising a system to distribute the low-cost power should not pose a problem. Niagara County already set up such a system, at least on paper, in 1983. It would need to acquire or lease a distribution system -- lines and poles -- to distribute electricity.

Anello also said the Power Authority proposal looks good to him.

"I'm satisfied at this point that we're about as close as we're going to get to a final package," he said.

e-mail: agalarneau@buffnews.com

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