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Tonawanda officials seeking ideas for redeveloping former Huntley plant

Michael Mroziak, WBFO

Officials in the Town of Tonawanda are seeking ideas and proposals to redevelop the idled Huntley power plant on River Road. In addition to restoring it as an economic contributor, local leaders want to prevent it from becoming a long-term waterfront eyesore.

Tonawanda and New York State elected officials joined representatives of the Ken-Ton School District and its unions to announce an Expression of Interest (EOI) Statement. The EOI, Town of Tonawanda Supervisor Joseph Emminger explained, invites private businesses to offer ideas for bringing new life into the former coal-burning facility, which was permanently retired in March 2016.

"We believe that given the regulatory changes, instituted by the state to support clean energy, and the existence of a National Grid switchyard and connection infrastructure at the site, there is significant potential for redevelopment of a renewable or clean-energy project on his hundred-acre site," Emminger said.

The EOI is extended to developers, real estate companies and power producers. 

The plant, which employed up to several hundred people at a time during its prime and throughout its history employed thousands, provided a significant source of tax revenue to the Town of Tonawanda and Ken-Ton School District. New York State's Electric Generation Facility Cessation Mitigation Program, which offers support for communities who lose tax revenues when coal-based energy plants close, have helped offset some of the loss.

State leaders who represent the district in which the Huntley plant sits, Assemblyman Robin Schimminger and Senator Chris Jacobs, expressed their support to help Tonawanda find a new purpose for the site.

"The right energy project could be a win-win-win for the town, for the state's energy grid and for local taxpayers," Schimminger said. "And when the time comes, I look forward to matching the needs of the town and a designated developer with state programs and resources to bring a Huntley renewable energy project to fruition."

NRG Energy owns and still maintains the site. Company spokesman David Gaier, in an email to WBFO, stated they, too, are forming a marketing plan and anticipate issuing their own request for proposals in the near future. That request would run parallel to the town's effort. Both Gaier and Town of Tonawanda officials said the two sides have remained in contact. 

Credit Chris Caya / WBFO News

NRG believes there are many possibilities for the site, not just reopening it as a renewable energy producer, according to their email.

Meanwhile, town and state leaders say they're determined to prevent the idled facility from becoming waterfront blight.

"As me and my colleagues on the Tonawanda Town Board have repeatedly emphasized, we are determined not to allow Huntley to become like Bethlehem Steel in Lackawanna, sitting and decaying for decades and becoming an eyesore on the Tonawanda waterfront," Emminger said. 

Once responses to the EOI arrive, the town will explore the possibility of partnering with a local development corporation or 501(c)(3) organization to work with respondents.

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
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