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Editorial: Don't let cheap water evaporate for Tonawanda industry

Water is often taken for granted until the day it stops flowing. Wisely, the Town of Tonawanda has no intention of letting that day arrive for the manufacturers that depend on water from the former Huntley Generating Station.

NRG Energy shut down the coal-to-energy facility in March 2016, but the site has continued providing untreated water for use by area manufacturers Sumitomo Rubber USA, DowDuPont, 3M Ocelo Sponge, PeroxyChem and Indeck-Yerkes. The companies use a total of about 19 million gallons of water per day from Huntley, for cooling in their manufacturing processes.

Town officials have talked about using eminent domain to take over the Huntley plant if they can't reach a new deal with NRG on providing the water at low cost. The current contract runs out next year.

Eminent domain is a club that must be used sparingly, but in this case thousands of jobs could be at stake. A Buffalo News story this month noted that the United Steelworkers Union represents about 1,600 employees at the five companies. In total, the companies represent about 3,000 jobs or more.

The "raw" water from Huntley costs much less than what the companies would pay to get water from the town.

Tonawanda sells treated water to its residential and commercial customers at a rate of $3.60 to $3.90 per 1,000 gallons, compared to 22 to 25 cents per 1,000 gallons for untreated water.

Even an eminent-domain takeover the plant would only be a short-term solution. The town ultimately wants to upgrade its water-treatment plant. To build a new water-pumping station would cost the town an estimated $27.2 million. The town is seeking $16 million in state grants plus pledges of support from the companies to help pay for a new plant.

The town plans to seek bids from law firms on eminent domain work.

NRG told The News it is willing to cooperate with the town to reach a solution. "The current contracts for water services are still in effect and could be amended or extended by mutual agreement," NRG's David Gaier said.

Let's hope NRG and the manufacturing companies come to new agreements soon, before the low-cost water dries up.

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