By JIMMY LAWTON
MASSENA -- St. Lawrence River Redevelopment Agency Chairman Bob McNeil says a proposal by two North Country senators to sell unallocated portions of "preservation power" would be a huge gain for the area.
McNeil said a bill proposed by senators Joe Griffo and Patricia Ritchie would allow any unallocated portion of 490 megawatts of power produced at the Saint Lawrence FDR power project to be sold on the open market, with the revenues to be used for economic development projects.
Griffo represents the eastern and central portions of St. Lawrence County, while Ritchie represents the western part of the county.
Currently Alcoa uses 478 megawatts of the preservation power. Other businesses also benefit from the low-cost power leaving about 2 megawatts that could actually be sold for economic development funding.
McNeil said the current revenues generated from the unallocated power go to the New York Power Authority.
He said a recent effort by Griffo and Ritchie to include a new provision in the state budget negotiations would be a big step forward for the area.
"Right now the power can be allocated to businesses in Franklin, Jefferson and St. Lawrence Counties," he said. "Under the Senate proposal, the power could still be allocated in all three counties, but the revenues generated from the sale would only be able to benefit economic development projects within in a 40-mile radius of the hydro dam."
The legislation is similar to an agreement NYPA holds with western New York municipalities.
While most agree that the extra economic development funding would be a benefit to the North Country, some concerns have been raised regarding the 40-mile radius, which would extend into Franklin County.
St. Lawrence County Board of Legislators Chairman Jonathan Putney said he would prefer to see any revenues from power sales to be spent within St. Lawrence County, particularly on the four communities that were directly affected by the project.
"Massena, Louisville, Waddington and Lisbon were all directly impacted by the St. Lawrence Seaway project and power dam. Any revenues should be used to benefit those towns."
McNeil said the radius is irrelevant since the current deal allows the power to be allocated in a tri-county area. He said limiting the revenue-funded economic development projects to within 40 miles of the dam would be a substantial achievement, even if it crossed county lines.
McNeil pointed out that the proposal made by Griffo and Ritchie was unrelated to the St. Lawrence River Valley Redevelopment Agency's 20 megawatts of power, but said this legislation could lay the groundwork for a similar deal to between the agency and the state.
"This is completely separate from the 20 megawatts. NYPA agreed that we would be able to sell the unallocated power on the open market, but Gov. Paterson and Gov. Cuomo said we needed legislation to do it," he said. "We need our representatives to move this forward and we need to have a unified voice."