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Tonawanda preparing to take over water intakes at former Huntley plant

The Town of Tonawanda is getting ready to take over a portion of the former Huntley Power Plant to make sure local industries can continue to access the plant's untreated water.

The Town Board on Monday voted to hire a law firm to begin eminent domain proceedings against NRG Energy, the owner of the coal-fired plant. The town would take control of the water intakes, water lines and other components of the plant used in the distribution of untreated, or raw, water to local industrial customers, said Supervisor Joseph Emminger.

NRG closed Huntley in 2016, but the plant continues to provide 19 million gallons of untreated water from the Niagara River to nearby manufacturers including PeroxyChem, the tire maker Sumitomo and 3M Ocelo Sponge.

But NRG's water contract with the companies has expired, and town and company officials are worried NRG will stop providing the water the industrial customers say is essential to their operations. Buying treated water from another supplier would be far too expensive, the companies have said.

Tonawanda officials say, if negotiations with NRG aren't successful, they would use eminent domain to temporarily take over the portion of the plant needed to provide the untreated water. Emminger said the town would hold onto the plant's water system only until the town is able to build up its own distribution network.

The town wants to build a water-pumping station at its treatment plant, on Aqua Lane off River Road, and invest in the infrastructure needed to sell untreated water directly to the five manufacturers. Officials estimate that project would cost $27.2 million, but grants and company payments would cover most of the cost.

The town on Monday hired the law firm of Hopkins, Sorgi and Romanowski to begin the eminent domain proceedings.

However, he said, "Our ultimate goal is to avoid that."

Emminger said the town at this point isn't negotiating with NRG but he knows NRG is pursuing talks with the companies.

"As the property owner of the Huntley power plant and its water intakes, we would prefer to hear directly from the Town of Tonawanda in order to begin a discussion regarding their specific needs for the site," NRG spokesman David Knox said in a statement Tuesday. "In the meantime, the current contracts for water services are still in effect and we continue to seek to work with the other industries using water from our system."

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