Legislation enabling the sale of 20 megawatts of hydropower and creating a new development fund to promote economic development in St. Lawrence County has passed the Assembly and is expected to be approved in the Senate and signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in short order,
The legislation, sponsored by Assemblywoman Addie Russell (D-Theresa), is the culmination of years of negotiations between stakeholders and community leaders.
Russell represents the Assembly’s “River District,” which includes all the St. Lawrence County towns along the St. Lawrence River -- Massena, Ogdensburg, Louisville, Waddington, Lisbon, Oswegatchie, Morristown, and Hammond -- plus the towns of Canton, Potsdam, Rossie, Macomb, and DePeyster and the City of Ogdensburg.
The legislation allows for the sale of unused hydropower from the St. Lawrence-Franklin D. Roosevelt Hydroelectric Plant to be used for economic development in St. Lawrence County. Under the legislation, up to 20 MW of power will now be able to be sold in the wholesale electricity market, with revenue generated from these sales used for economic development projects throughout St. Lawrence County.
The bill creates the Northern New York Power Proceeds Allocation Board which will be charged with recommending the awards from the funds. The board will consist of five members, three of which must live in St. Lawrence County.
“This is the final piece needed to put this incredible asset to full use in bringing desperately needed economic development to the North Country,” Russell said. “Now is the time to get down to the business of putting these assets to use attracting new, good jobs to St. Lawrence County.”
A statement from the office of Joseph Gray, Massena town supervisor and chair of the St. Lawrence Local Government Task Force, said their efforts had “achieved a very significant addition to the language of the Northern New York Power Proceeds Act passed Monday in Albany.”
The task force represents the interests of Lisbon, Louisville, Massena, Waddington, Madrid-Waddington Central School, Massena Central School and St. Lawrence County in the matter.
A press release from her office says that Russell played a key role in securing the initial contract in 2009 which set aside the 20 megawatts of development power and has worked to fashion an agreement on monetization “that will move St. Lawrence County forward.”
“With this agreement in place, we can begin to look to the future and make the investments in job growth and infrastructure that strengthen our communities for ourselves and our children,” Russell said.
Once the Assembly took up the bill, it moved quickly. In one week, it was approved in three committees and by the full Assembly, and was passed on to the Senate.
The Senate will be going back into session today, and Russell spokesman Mark Pacilio is confident that, with an agreement in place, the Senate will approve it there before it goes to the governor for his signature.
Gov. Cuomo announced the deal this week, noting that it is part of the Memorandum of Understanding between the state, the St. Regis Mohawks and St. Lawrence County. It provide for the “monetization” or sale of the 20 megawatts of hydroelectric power allocated to the Local Government Task Force in an effort to replace the lost benefit of the proposed St. Lawrence Aquarium and Ecological Center, a major component of the 2002 relicensing agreement with the New York Power Authority.
The Task Force, by a 6-2 vote, last week approved the proposed NNYPPA legislation but requested language to allow the monetization proceeds to be used in “support for tourism and marketing and advertising efforts for St. Lawrence County tourism and business.”
“Task Force members felt this language was vital to our economic recovery. We have seen solid evidence of the positive impact tourism can have on our economy and we needed to ensure the money could be used for this emerging sector of local business,” Task Force Chairman Joseph Gray said.
“What may seem like a minor change to the language could very well mean major gains for our area and the people who live here,” he added.
In 2010, the Task Force member towns and NYPA signed a contract that created the St. Lawrence River Valley Redevelopment Authority, and allowed it to oversee the allocation and/or monetization on the 20 megawatts and the remaining $16 million of $20 million which the Task Force secured in the 2002 agreement. The RVRDA contract also provided the St. Lawrence County Industrial Development Agency with $300,000 annually to provide staff support for the RVRDA, the statement from Gray’s office explained.
Since 2010, the governor’s office had refused to allow the monetization to take without special legislation. Until this week, the Senate, Assembly and governor could not agree on the wording of that legislation.
The RVRDA and the IDA unexpectedly voiced their support for the proposed legislation last week but failed to request any changes. Similar legislation passed several years ago for western New York allowed the monetization proceeds to be used for broader purposes than those proposed for the NNYPPA and supported by the RVRDA and the IDA.