Deal reached to handle NYPA megawatts, $16m

By Laura Bomyea, Johnson Newspaers, Saturday, October 17, 2009.

LOUISVILLE — Despite strong public opposition and spirited disagreement among board members, the Local Government Task Force accepted an agreement Thursday night between the proposed St. Lawrence River Valley Redevelopment Agency and the St. Lawrence County Industrial Development Agency to handle the $16 million and 20 megawatts of power promised by the New York Power Authority.

 The agreement's most contentious stipulation states the IDA will be paid $300,000 per year to market, administer and allocate the money and power based on recommendations made by the RVRDA, which has yet to be formally created.

 The IDA also will reserve the right to turn down any project for funding that it feels should not be given loans, power allocations or other financing.

 Discussions Thursday were punctuated several times by attacks on members of the IDA and the task force — a group representing the towns of Lisbon, Waddington, Louisville and Massena that originally proposed the creation of the RVRDA.

 Task Force Chairman Robert O. McNeil and Massena town supervisor candidate Joseph D. Gray tangled over whether Mr. McNeil was guilty of a conflict of interest because of his role both as county treasurer and his recent appointment to the RVRDA as Lisbon's representative.

 A number of local environmentalists clashed with officials over a perceived lack of consideration for environmental issues in the plan as well as some past conflicts that citizens said made it difficult to trust the officials.

 But a significant amount of the rancor surrounded the $300,000 per year payment to the IDA and the IDA's overall involvement in the process. A crowd of more than a dozen activists, officials and community members railed against the contract, challenging the plan and likening the $300,000 annual payment to extortion.

 "This is not a partnership — it's a shotgun wedding," environmental activist and League of Women Voters representative Lucia D. Dailey said.

 Members of the Task Force, most notably Waddington Mayor Janet Otto-Cassada and Waddington Town Councilwoman Shirley L. Robinson, expressed opposition to the magnitude of the annual IDA payment and pressed fellow Task Force members for more time to review the proposal with municipal board members and legal counsel before putting it to a vote.

 "I do not agree with the $300,000 per year, plus additional administrative fees, as the proposal says," Ms. Robinson said. "When we first had discussions about the IDA being involved, we were told they were ready to oversee this. Now they want $300,000?"

 Ms. Otto-Cassada agreed.

 "The monetary figure is not satisfactory," she said. "If this is a joint project, as I was led to believe, I do not see why this is necessary. This states the money will be used to help pay for phone lines, file cabinets, etc. The IDA is already set up — don't they have all that already?"

 Despite the objections, Mr. McNeil, Massena Town Supervisor W. Gary Edwards, Massena Mayor Randy G. DeLosh and Louisville Town Supervisor Larry R. Legault called on the Task Force to take swift action in order to avoid the loss of thousands of dollars in revenue the community could derive if the money and power were available today.

 "I believe this is actually a good contract with the IDA," Mr. McNeil said. "This was a negotiation — everybody did not get what they wanted. We always knew we would need to work with the IDA because they have special powers the RVRDA can't have, to loan or give money, that kind of thing. I enthusiastically agree with this contract."

 Task force members pointed out that NYPA instructed them to find a way to work with the IDA or risk losing the money and power. The contract was a result of their efforts to try to cooperate, they said.

 "We've had many meetings and, as a result, we've come up with this proposal," IDA Vice Chairman Ernest J. Labaff said. "Northern New York is in dire need of economic development. With the expertise of the IDA and the enthusiasm of this group, we can use this to bring jobs back to the north country so we can keep our kids here."

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