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What's next for Tonawanda's Huntley power plant property?

The shuttering of Huntley Station in March hit the area hard with the loss of 79 jobs and $6 million in lost revenues – $2 million to the Town of Tonawanda, $3 million to the Kenmore-Town of Tonawanda School District and $1 million to Erie County.

Town officials are also unclear what's next for the property on River Road, which had been home to the coal-fired power plant owned by NRG Energy.

"We are trying to get that site back on the rolls as soon as possible," Supervisor Joseph H. Emminger said during an impromptu discussion at Monday's town board meeting. He said they were unsure about the environmental conditions at the site.

"The problem is that we have a 400,000-square-foot plant on 93 acres with some allegedly contaminated soil and the company is not cooperating with us," said Emminger.

He said there are probably a variety of uses for the site, which could include residential - depending on the condition of the property, or even a museum or public-use site.

David Gaier, a spokesman for NRG Energy, said the company has no plans to reopen the coal-fired electric generating station and it has no immediate plans for the property. "As far as redevelopment goes, we don't have any current redevelopment plans on the table," said Gaier. He said redevelopment of former power plants are usually "lengthy and complex processes."

Gaier could not provide specifics on how long that process would take, nor would he discuss what remediation of the site might be required.

He said of remediation, "Obviously that would be part of the redevelopment - whatever is required will happen at some point, but we don't have a redevelopment plan on the table. Right now we are just focused on keeping the site safe and secure and are looking at all of our options."

Emminger said the community has already begun to look ahead at redevelopment.

"Our Tonawanda Tomorrow is trying to bring together some type of River Road corridor and we encourage the public to get involved and invested in that," said Emminger.

Tonawanda Tomorrow was formed in the fall to discuss plans for a future without Huntley - how to create jobs and grow the economy, especially along the River Road corridor.

But this is not a new initiative.

The Just Transition Coalition - which includes members of the Clean Air Coalition of WNY and labor, municipal, and school leaders - are part to Tonawanda Tomorrow and have been planning a post-Huntley future along the shoreline for several years.

The community-driven effort put out surveys in November and will have its first meeting "Creating 21st Strategies for Tonawanda's Economy from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Feb. 16 in the Phillip Sheridan Building, 3200 Elmwood Ave.

Emminger said the loss of tax revenue is something the town was able to offset - at least for this year, with a portion of $19 million that was set aside by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in the state's  budget to cushion the tax impact of Huntley's closing.

Emminger said the Huntley property was assessed at over $500 million prior to its closing and had a payment in lieu of taxes agreement of $6 million with the school, town and county. 

Emminger admitted that it had been grossly over assessed, but the number "didn't mean anything" because NRG had been making PILOT payments. But when the agreement ended with the plant's closing the assessment was lowered to $13 million - which also lowered the total tax payments on the property to roughly $600,000, shared among the school, town and county per year.

Emminger said he and representatives from the school district went to Albany several times to lobby for funds to offset the closing.

"We got $30 million over the next five years - that's for the whole state," said Emminger. "But they are not reimbursing us 100 percent. They are giving us 80 percent of our lost revenue in 2017. We lost $1.8 million and they will reimburse us 80 percent of that."

However, Emminger said that reimbursement will go down each year and in 2018 the town will receive 65 percent of the lost revenue, and then 50 percent and 25 percent in subsequent years - providing the money is still available.

Empire State Development President Howard Zemsky said in a statement last year that the Electric Generation Facility Mitigation Fund was set up to support communities that lost revenues from the closure of the Huntley and Dunkirk power plants.

Emminger said with recent plans for NRG to revive Dunkirk he is hoping more cash can be funneled to Tonawanda.

"Dunkirk is going to start up its plant again with natural gas. They are not going to do that in Tonawanda," said Emminger. "Dunkirk is going to get the aid this year, but hopefully they won't get in next year and there will be more money in the kitty."

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