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Editorial: State and local collaboration is essential to the task for reusing Huntley coal plant location

Town of Tonawanda Supervisor Joseph H. Emminger says he wakes up thinking about the Huntley Power Generating Station. He should keep his mind trained on that task.

It may take near-obsession to devise a viable use for the 93-acre site on River Road. That’s fine. Figuring out what comes next is an imperative for communities that relied on Huntley, which NRG Energy closed last March.

The closure took $6 million in annual property tax revenue off the books and left a shuttered coal plant taking up valuable space. The five-year Electric Generation Facility Cessation Mitigation program provides temporary relief. The program, enacted as part of the 2016-17 state budget, is a $30 million fund to aid communities that lose property tax as the result of an electric generating plant closure.

The result here is the loss of several million much-needed tax dollars to the Town of Tonawanda, the Kenmore-Tonawanda School District and Erie County. The amount will be restructured and extended with a new payment schedule providing an additional $5.4 million over the next seven years to all three entities. Assemblyman Robin Schimminger, D-Kenmore, and State Sen. Christopher L. Jacobs, R-Buffalo, touted their efforts as a “major win” for taxpayers in the Town of Tonawanda and Ken-Ton School District to successfully include language in both the Assembly and Senate one-house budget bills. The fund will increase to $45 million in 2020. The number of years those affected can get aid also has been extended.

The money will decrease over seven years. It should be enough time to figure out how to replace millions in revenue and, as Schimminger said, not just the NRG site, but across the entire River Road corridor. The solution might correlate with reuse (or riddance) of the plant.

Emminger understandably does not want a behemoth languishing for decades in the same fashion as the former Bethlehem Steel plant in Lackawanna. And, yes, it will take a while before determining what can be done, as a spokesman for NRG told The News, adding that remediation may likely have to wait for a few answers, such as what kind of company wants to fill the void. As of now, NRG is unaware of any outside interest in the property.

Jacobs is right. There is something called corporate responsibility. And, to be sure, government entities at all levels should ensure communities affected by the Huntley closing have time to recover.

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