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County gets pros on power relicense Attorney, negotiator helped Niagara's effort

An attorney and negotiator who helped win Niagara County's billion dollar settlement from the State Power Authority are about to join Erie County's effort to extract more money from the deal.

County Executive Joel A. Giambra said he was in the process of hiring James C. Roscetti, who, as lawyer for the Niagara Falls School District, participated in the negotiations over the relicensing of the Niagara Power Project.

And Mark Zito, the former executive director of the Niagara Power Coalition -- which struck that $1 billion deal -- will help Erie County, too.

The power authority offered Buffalo and Erie County a $2 million a year, take-it-or-leave-it deal for the 50-year relicensing.

"I think it will be better than $2 million," Roscetti said Thursday.

Giambra's move comes amid Rep. Brian M. Higgins' push for $1 billion in power authority money to rebuild Buffalo's waterfront -- and amid criticism that the county and city mishandled negotiations while Niagara County was striking a sweet deal.

"I think we can get a healthier settlement," Giambra said.

Roscetti noted that Niagara County's piece of the deal had been settled and won't be reduced, leaving him free to help Erie County get more money out of the relicensing.

"They think that I have a good relationship will all of the different sides of this," and thus might be able to help Erie County, Roscetti said.

He added that Zito -- widely seen as a key figure in winning the generous package for that coalition of six Niagara County governments -- will act as an unpaid adviser to the Erie County effort.

Until now, sources involved in the talks said, the city and county participation was fleeting at best -- and might have resulted in the localities getting less than they deserved.

"For Buffalo and Erie County, there's been nobody home," said Lynda K. Schneekloth, a Buffalo environmentalist who participated in the process.

The county's original lead negotiator got laid off during the budget crisis, and the city's main representative, a reservist, got called up for duty in Iraq.

That meant the two governments staffed the negotiations with a rotating cast of characters.

"It was like: who's going to be Buffalo's representative this week?" said Barry Boyer, president of Friends of Buffalo Niagara Rivers, who participated in the talks.

Buffalo Mayor Anthony M. Masiello disputed the idea that Buffalo didn't handle the negotiations well even though the negotiators may have changed.

"We never lost our focus," he said.

The real problem, Masiello said, was that the power authority failed to negotiate in good faith. He cited a negotiation session that the authority canceled just before announcing its relicensing deal Aug. 19.

Other negotiators say that the power authority pulled one over on Buffalo interests when it agreed to delay consideration of the Niagara River ice boom -- key to keeping the hydropower flowing in wintertime -- and its possible impact on Buffalo's climate and environment.

Higgins and others argue that Buffalo should be compensated for that impact, and local negotiators thought the compensation would be included in the final package as a trade-off for taking the issue off the table early in the talks. But the power authority never made such a concession.

"NYPA acted nice and played nice and then didn't hold up their end of the bargain," said David Colligan, counsel to the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy, another negotiator.

Brian Vattimo, senior vice president of the power authority, disputed the notion that the authority did not negotiate in good faith. He noted that the Power Project affects 3,222 acres of property in Niagara County and only 14 in Erie County, meaning it's natural that Niagara County deserves more compensation.

Giambra acknowledged one error in his negotiation strategy: teaming up with the Buffalo Niagara Partnership.

Giambra said the partnership was focused on the interests of big power users rather than the community. Power users are concerned about Buffalo and Erie County winning more money from the relicensing because the power authority has said any higher settlement will be paid for through higher electric rates.

Giambra said if the county can't strike a better deal with the power authority, he is prepared to do what the city plans to do and take its case to the federal regulators.

In light of those developments, Some fear that the consensus-building license renewal effort will collapse. If that happens, the license -- which expires Aug. 31, 2007 -- will be renewed through negotiations with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, in a process that's considered far more cumbersome.

e-mail: jzremski@buffnews.com

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