Head of NYPA says hydropower battle is resolved - December 17, 2009

By Laura Bomyea, Johnson Newspapers, Thursday, December 17th, 2009

MASSENA — New York Power Authority President and Chief Executive Officer Richard M. Kessel says a brewing battle between a group of environmentalists and the task force charged with coming up with a way to dole out $16 million and 20 megawatts of hydropower has been diffused.

With all involved parties now working cooperatively, Mr. Kessel said he expects to hash out the details of the proposed St. Lawrence River Valley Redevelopment Agency in the coming weeks, in time for the NYPA board of trustees to hear and vote on the proposal during its late-January meeting.

And, he said, he may even throw in an additional 2 megawatts of hydropower, giving the community 22 megawatts of low-cost power to attract businesses here.

The CEO and a small cadre of NYPA officials held a closed-door session with members of the Local Government Task Force, the St. Lawrence County Industrial Development Agency, elected officials and economic development professionals Wednesday afternoon at the Frank S. McCullough Jr. Hawkins Point Visitors Center.

During the session, Mr. Kessel said he was briefed on the RVRDA plan by members of the task force. According to the proposal, the RVRDA would be charged with deciding how to allocate the $16 million and 20 megawatts and would work in concert with the IDA and possibly other agencies to offer grants, loans or other incentives to create jobs in the region.

While a group of environmentalists involved with the St. Lawrence Valley Environmental Coalition had offered serious criticisms of the plan, Mr. Kessel says a compromise has been reached that will allow the proposal to move forward.

"I've been talking to the environmentalists and they are now going to be part of the process," Mr. Kessel said. "They are not going to take control of this or guide this on their own, but I wanted them to be at the table."

The NYPA CEO said he had discussed the environmental group's concerns at length and offered to find ways to involve the group, possibly through renewable energy or energy efficiency projects that could adequately address both the need to create jobs and investment in the area, and the concern that development should follow practices consistent with proper environmental stewardship.

"The bottom line is, this is about jobs," Mr. Kessel said. "The north country needs help. We're trying to expedite this so we can get this program approved by the end of January. From what's been described to me, this could be transformational. It could create thousands of jobs up here and spur economic development in a significant way."

Mr. Kessel said he did not discourage the environmentalists, including group spokesman Richard W. Grover, from being involved in the process or from coming up with their own projects to vie for funding or power.

"I encouraged them to sit down after this is all done and figure out a project they could be involved with," Mr. Kessel said. "I think right now, jobs and business creation needs to take precedence. I don't want to speak for them, but I think the environmentalists are satisfied with that."

Mr. Grover did not return calls for comment.

Mr. Kessel said he also wants assurances from all parties involved that the 20 to 22 megawatts will be allocated and distributed legally through the appropriate channels.

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