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Power Project money in dispute Higgins, Tokasz differ on its use

As the New York Power Authority appeared ready to increase its offer to Buffalo and Erie County, a dispute emerged Friday over who will get any of the new money.

The authority confirmed it plans to meet with representatives of Mayor Anthony M. Masiello and County Executive Joel A. Giambra next week to discuss a financial settlement it is seeking to renew the federal license to operate the Niagara Power Project.

Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, wants the authority to increase its initial offer of $2 million annually for 50 years to $10 million a year, and have it indexed for inflation.

The Buffalo Common Council and County Legislature are on record in support of Higgins, who wants the money to go to a new, locally controlled Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp.

But Assembly Majority Leader Paul Tokasz, D-Cheektowaga, and Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, D-Buffalo, sent a letter to the authority, Masiello and Giambra, indicating that the "no less than $7 million . . . must be targeted" for waterfront improvements in Erie County.

Tokasz revealed he has been negotiating with the authority.

Higgins said Tokasz and Hoyt, with whom he served in the Assembly, "are playing right into the power authority's divide-and-conquer tactics."

The assemblymen's letter to the authority, Masiello and Giambra appeared to take Higgins -- who initiated the demand for more money -- by total surprise.

Tokasz, in an interview, said he believes the authority is ready to settle for $7 million a year a $5 million increase from the authority's initial offer. He said he has been talking numbers with Brian Vattimo, a senior vice president for the authority.

Tokasz predicted the authority would not increase the aid to the $10 million level without insisting on more money from electric customers. Further, Tokasz and Hoyt said any new funds should go not to the harbor development agency spearheaded by Higgins and which will be headed by Anthony Gioia, but to the newly created state Greenway Commission. This new panel, which will be named by Gov. George E. Pataki, would build parklands and other recreational facilities from Lake Ontario to the southern end of the Buffalo outer harbor.

At the same time, Tokasz said the only reason Giambra has entered negotiations is that he wants the added power authority money to bail the county out of its chronic fiscal problems.

Higgins said he is disappointed because Hoyt has already signed on to his proposal asking for $10 million.

"[Tokasz and Hoyt] like most, are missing the point that my proposal is a mitigation settlement in compliance with the Federal Power Act," Higgins said. "It is not a way for local and state governments to supplant monies for municipal purposes.

"My $10 million proposal is to be directed to the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. to address the impact of the Niagara Power Project on the Buffalo shoreline."

Tokasz and Hoyt wrote the letter as Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y. -- in support of Higgins -- asked the authority to meet with the entire Buffalo Niagara congressional delegation to discuss the settlement with Buffalo and Erie County.

Although the authority is a state agency, its application to renew the license to operate the power project through 2057 is a federal matter.

News Washington Bureau Reporter Jerry Zremski contributed to this report.

e-mail: dturner@buffnews.com

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