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BOARD MUM ON OFFER FROM POWER AUTHORITY

The New York Power Authority has made the Town Board an offer, but is it an offer members can't refuse? No one from the board was saying after an hourlong executive session Monday night.

The Power Authority is in the first step of applying for a renewal of its 50-year license for the Niagara Power Project and is trying to make deals with stakeholders, the communities, businesses and organizations that are affected by the project.

The Niagara Power Coalition is one of the negotiating stakeholders, representing seven taxing entities and including the Town of Lewiston, City of Niagara Falls and Niagara County Legislature and Town of Niagara, as well Niagara Falls, Lewiston-Porter and Niagara-Wheatfield school districts.

Mark S. Zito, chairman of the coalition, called the process a long one, noting that the Niagara Power Coalition has been meeting since 1992.

"There's a fantastic deal in front of you," Zito said of the settlement offer.

He said that the Power Authority was not obligated to offer any settlement but that its leaders thought the community needs were so important that they had to "divvy up and be a good neighbor."

Thomas F. Doherty, from Mercury Public Affairs, was also involved in negotiating on the coalition's behalf. Zito said Doherty was hired, not because he was an attorney or negotiator, but because he was from a company well-versed in government interactions.

"Our former attorney was getting us blown out of negotiations, and we lost our ability to deal with the Power Authority day in and day out," Zito said. "This change led to the dialogue."

Doherty said of the deal: "It's not just a pot of cash. It's something that would make (the stakeholders) better 50 years from now -- land, money, low-cost power, recreational projects. Each side has said it's a historic agreement."

Town Supervisor Fred Newlin called an executive session to discuss the agreement because of the possibility of land being acquired by a public body. Town Attorney Joseph L. Leone Jr. also noted that public discussion of a contract could hurt the town's position.

Newlin said before the executive session that he hoped an agreement might be reached by the end of the week but made no decision on the matter after the executive session.

After the executive session, Zito said five or six members of the Niagara Power Coalition were already in favor of the settlement and ready to agree with it but did not say whether the Town of Lewiston was one of the boards that favored the settlement.

"If they don't agree, (the town's) settlement would likely go into a pot, and then the matter would have to be settled in federal litigation," Zito said.

e-mail: nfischer@buffnews.com

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