By JIMMY LAWTON
MASSENA – The $2 million in economic development funds now expected to flow into St. Lawrence County each year will open new doors for development in the region, according to Industrial Development Agency CEO Patrick Kelly.
And Robert McNeil, chairman of the River Valley Redevelopment Agency, said the IDA is already reaching out to businesses and developers that might be interested in St. Lawrence County’s new incentives.
The legislative deal announced Monday allows revenues from the sale of 20 megawatts of power produced by St. Lawrence FDR power project to be used for economic development in St. Lawrence County.
According to estimates provided by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, that could bring $2 million to $3 million in economic development funding to the county annually.
Politicians and members of River Valley Redevelopment Agency are calling the deal a big win for the county. The 20 megawatts were granted to Massena Electric Department in 2012 under the advisory of the River Agency by the New York Power Authority to offer low cost power to attract businesses to the St. Lawrence County.
Long Time Coming
The 20 megawatts and a $16 million pool of money for economic development were part of a deal struck between NYPA and the towns of Lisbon, Louisville, Massena and Waddington designed to compensate for lost development opportunity caused by the establishment of the St. Lawrence FDR Power Project.
For more than four years, the Local Government Task Force and the River Agency have been trying to reach a deal with NYPA that would allow the revenues of the unallocated portion of the 20 megawatts to be used for economic development projects.
The legislation agreed upon by the Senate and Assembly this week does just that.
McNeil, who was the former chair of the task force, said the legislation was a “long time coming” and that he was thankful to local, regional and state officials who helped make it possible.
New Development Agency
The agreement allows for revenue generated from the market sale of unused hydropower from the power plant to be applied for economic development in the county.
However, the revenue generated from power sales will not go to the task force or the River Agency. It will actually remain with NYPA. The legislation establishes a new entity known as the Northern New York Power Allocation Board, which will make recommendations to the NYPA Board of Trustees for final approval of grants and loans.
That board will consist of five members, three of those members will be from St. Lawrence County. McNeil said that while the funding will not be administered by the River Agency or St. Lawrence County Industrial Development Agency, he expects both agencies will forward recommendations to the new board.
“I think plan is the River Agency will bring the projects forward to the board,” he said.
NYPA Spokesman Michael Saltzman said he was unsure exactly how the projects will be approved but agree that the River Agency and IDA would play a key part in the process.
Good For Five Years
The legislation does have some drawbacks. As it is currently written, up to 20 megawatts of unallocated power can be monetized for five years. After that only revenue generated from 10 megawatts will be set aside for economic development.
McNeil however is not overly concerned with that aspect of the agreement. He expects the 10-megawatt restriction will be removed in the next legislative session.
“I understand that we are going to try to change that so that we can monetize all 20 MW of unallocated power in the future,” he said.
McNeil said that language remained from a previous deal that was being negotiated and was included in the current agreement on because the legislative session is coming to an end.
He said he is confident the change will be made when the next legislative session begins in January.
Opening New Doors
“The more channels you have, the more funding sources you have, the more opportunities you have to encourage project development,” said IDA CEO Kelly.
“Having access to the proceeds of the 20 megawatts should give us the ability to offer more incentive and target businesses on a scale we haven’t been able to in the past.”
Although the new board will add yet another layer of approval for projects, Kelly and McNeil say they expect the new agency to operate smoothly with both the IDA and River Agency.
McNeil said the IDA is already reaching out to businesses and developers that might be interested in St. Lawrence County’s new incentives.
“This represents $2 to $3 million. I’m glad to get it done. I think it’s going to bring new opportunities to the area,” said McNeil.