By ANDY GARDNER
MASSENA -- Officials from both the Local Government Task Force and New York Power Authority are calling their Friday meeting a success.
"We all considered the meeting to be relatively positive and we're well-aware there's still a lot of work to do," task force chair Joseph Gray said. "The power authority was a little more receptive to the proposals we made initially and we had a good, lengthy discussion about those proposals and NYPA's as well."
"We are pleased that we were able to continue the dialogue on matters of importance to St. Lawrence communities," NYPA spokesperson Michael Saltzman said. "It is our sincere hope that we can complete the review with the LGTF and implement ... benefits for the North Country."
Gray said the two sides are trying to nail down a date to return to the negotiating table.
"We're trying to get another meeting scheduled soon," he said.
NYPA recently announced they awarded a $934,000 contract to build a 2.5-mile trial on Nichols Island in Louisville. Gray said he thinks the timing, with it being just days before the Aug. 1 meeting, is coincidental.
"Apparently that has been in the works for some time and it just came to fruition right now," Gray said, adding that he believes it was "housekeeping … it just happened to occur the week prior."
The meeting came on the heels of a war of words between the two sides, which included the task force filing notices of dispute in an attempt to get the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission involved in the 10-year review of NYPA's 50-year lease to operate the St. Lawrence-Roosevelt Power Project.
The two sides have been at odds since late June, when their talks came to what Gray has called "an abrupt halt."
"On June 23, 2014, NYPA made a take-it-or-leave-it proposal to the Task Force and at the same time, unilaterally called a halt to the review mandated by the 2002 Relicensing Settlement Agreement," Gray said in a previously released statement.
Since then, the task force has served NYPA two notices of dispute in attempt to get the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) involved.
The task force also intends on petitioning the governor, Gray said, with a document signed by upwards of 950 people that calls for a fair deal for St. Lawrence County.
NYPA officials say they are ready to get back to the table.
"The New York Power Authority wants to move beyond the press statements and political sound bites," Saltzman said in a previous news release. "We look forward to working with the Local Government Task Force to deliver additional benefits now and avoid any delay of economic development and job growth in the North Country. This is exactly what the citizens of the North Country deserve from their public officials."
The whole ordeal has attracted attention from state lawmakers and on June 30, senators Joe Griffo, Patty Ritchie and George Maziarz called on NYPA to return to the negotiating table, according to Gray.
The task force is pushing for a deal with NYPA equitable to their arrangement with communities in Western New York to operate the Niagara Power Project.
Although Niagara produces just shy of twice as much electricity, the communities get a far better deal, according to Gray.
He has previously stated that NYPA pays the city of Buffalo and Erie and Niagara counties $973 million. The project covers 3,162 acres, about a half-mile of shoreline for a total of about 8.6 percent of NYPA's land, according to the statement.
By comparison, St. Lawrence County and the towns of Massena, Louisville and Waddington get $115 million from NYPA, Gray said. The St. Lawrence-Roosevelt project includes 33,696 acres and more than 200 miles of shoreline, encompassing about 83 percent of NYPA's lands in New York state, the statement says.
After discussions "abruptly halted," according to Gray, NYPA fired back by claiming they don't have the legal right to extend the benefits the task force is seeking.
NYPA spokesperson Connie Cullen claims that since the funds to match the western New York deal could "be used for general local government purposes," they can't legally agree to pay it.
"As this review is outside of the FERC licensing process, NYPA does not have the legal authority to make grants or contributions to the local communities," she wrote in a June 27 email.