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Huntley closure overshadows Tonawanda supervisor’s address

Challenges faced this year by the Town of Tonawanda have been “intensified” by the retirement of the Huntley Station coal plant, Supervisor Joseph H. Emminger said Friday during his first State of the Town address.

“I could not give a State of the Town address this year without mentioning Huntley and its impact,” he said. “While we know there will be a loss of revenue of over $2.2 million for the town alone – not to mention $3 million for the Ken-Ton School District – the additional impacts are not fully known at this time.”

Operations at the coal-fired power plant owned by NRG Energy ceased March 1 and Emminger said he met this week with NRG officials to discuss the future of the 100-acre site on River Road.

“I am encouraged by what they had to tell us for the long term,” he said during the half-hour address in Classics V Banquet Center in Amherst, sponsored by the Ken-Ton Chamber of Commerce. “However, we want a working partnership with the owner, NRG, to ensure the Huntley site is repurposed and productive once again.”

To address short-term budget deficits, Emminger said he has traveled to Albany twice in the last five weeks to lobby state officials for relief from the Fossil Fuel Plant Closure Fund.

“Our meetings have been well-received,” he said. “But I am here to assure you today, the town, the school district, the county, the grass-roots organizations and all the residents in the town will not take no for an answer.”

Other challenges faced by the town include mandated updates to its aging sewer and water infrastructure; a tax cap this year of less of than 0.1 percent; skyrocketing health insurance costs for town employees that increased over $1 million last year; and ongoing negotiations with all three bargaining units in the town.

Most of Emminger’s address, however, was used to spotlight positive advancements in the town, including:

• Replacement this year of the smaller recycling bins with larger recycling totes to encourage more recycling and raise revenue. “Hopefully, by this time next year, everyone should have them,” he said.

• State grants received by the Police Department to purchase body cameras for all patrol officers and video storage units later this year.

• A shared services agreement that has the town sharing an assessor with the City of Tonawanda and Town of Grand Island.

• Completion later this year of the fourth and final phase of the Parker Fries Sewer Interceptor Project, which began in 2010.

• The long-anticipated Tonawanda Rails-to-Trails project is set to open in late spring or early summer, Emminger said. The off-road trail cuts a diagonal line across the heart of the town’s residential core along an old railroad bed, crossing Sheridan Drive near three popular restaurants.

“It will provide alternative access to what some have dubbed ‘the holy trinity of fast food’ — Ted’s Hot Dogs, Anderson’s and Paula’s Donuts,” Emminger said.

A path connecting the Rails-to-Trails to Lincoln Park is in its final design phase and should be completed this year, he said. Constructed from porous material and supplemented with rain gardens along the perimeter, the Lincoln Park loop will be the first “green” trail in the town.

“These two trails will be added to the list of the town’s exemplary recreation facilities,” he said.

A review of vacant and underutilized parcels along the Niagara River in the town’s western industrial section is also near competition, he said. The Tonawanda Opportunity Area, as it’s known, is part of the state’s Brownfield Opportunity Areas Program and includes the Huntley site.

“So while one chapter of our town’s history is ending with the closure of Huntley,” he said, “a new and better chapter will soon start to take shape over the coming years with the redevelopment of our waterfront.”

email: jpopiolkowski@buffnews.com