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Power authority steers clear of congressional delegation

The State Power Authority has rebuffed a request to meet with the region's congressional delegation to settle a dispute over aid for Buffalo and Erie County under a 50-year renewal of the authority's operating license for the Niagara Power Project.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., spearheaded the request, saying he finds the difference between the authority's offers to Erie and Niagara counties "highly disconcerting."

The authority's offer to Erie County comes to only about a tenth of the $1 billion offered to Niagara County through 2057.

Rep. Brian M. Higgins, D-Buffalo, the Buffalo Common Council and Erie County Legislature, are seeking more money -- up to $1 billion -- to reshape the Outer Harbor and waterfront.

Schumer's written request to Joseph J. Seymour, the authority's chairman, drew support Wednesday from Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., and Reps. Louise M. Slaughter, D-Fairport, and Thomas M. Reynolds, R-Clarence, as well as Higgins.

Clinton "wants to ensure that Erie County gets a fair deal from the [State] Power Authority," said Philippe Reines, Clinton's press secretary. "There has been an impasse for some time now, and she believes it is time to move forward."

But Michael Saltzman, the authority spokesman, said the agency already was negotiating with Buffalo and Erie County.

"If there comes a point in the negotiations when we believe a meeting of the entire Western New York congressional delegation would be beneficial, we'll work to set it up," Saltzman said.

The authority's license to operate the project in Lewiston will expire in two years. Under Senate rules, Schumer and Clinton have considerable influence over the relicensing process.

Slaughter, whose district includes Lewiston, said she and Seymour have held talks for two weeks.

"They indicated a desire to increase their offer to Buffalo, but they just didn't put one on the table," said Eric Burns, Slaughter's spokesman. "This proposal [of Schumer's] to bring the delegation and authority officials together might just be the thing to settle this."

Slaughter maintains that negotiating settlements with the authority is "far preferable to going the legislative route, which could open the relicensing to all kinds of challenges" from other states, Burns said.

"She wants a better deal for Buffalo and is working to get one," Burns said.

The authority can get a new license through an act of Congress or a so-called "consensus" of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

The "consensus" route usually works best if all the parties, such as local governments, agree on a settlement. Slaughter has opposed the bill proposed by Higgins to mandate payment of the $1 billion sought for Erie County as the price for renewing the license.

She said local power users would face "inherent dangers," such as losing out in a congressional floor fight over the allocation of the project's wattage to other states.

Buffalo and Erie County have retained lawyers in an effort to improve the authority's offer of $2 million a year for 50 years.

"We intend to continue our negotiations with the City of Buffalo and Erie County for a balanced approach to the Niagara Project's relicensing that maintains the hydroelectric project's low electricity rates," Saltzman said. "Slaughter has talked with us about a reasonable agreement, as have others."

Higgins said he disagrees with County Executive Joel A. Giambra's plans to use proceeds from the license renewal for purposes other than rebuilding the Outer Harbor for recreational purposes. Such use of funds, Higgins said, would be contrary to the Federal Power Act.

Giambra declined to comment.

e-mail: dturner@buffnews.com

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