Hearing attendance is mandatory

Many residents here have the perception that our state capital dictates everything that is wrong with our region. It has become convenient, but not often correct.

These residents believe it is Albany, not the local elected officials, that drives up the taxes. They believe it is Albany, not county government, that is responsible for the high cost of Medicaid.

They also believe Albany is responsible for too many mandates at our schools, even though some of the smallest districts in our county that should no longer be in existence receive almost 75 percent of their budget from state aid.

But all of these problems, despite Albany’s sometimes heavy hand, are brought on locally by residents and area representatives. If we are not going to change how we do business in the 21st century – by maintaining 62 major taxing entities that have existed for more than a century – then we in Chautauqua County are part of the problem as well.

There is, however, one thing Albany does have control over that this area does not. It is the fate of the NRG Energy Inc. Dunkirk power plant.

On July 15, a Public Service Commission hearing is planned for the Williams Center at Fredonia State University. A question-and-answer session by NRG and National Grid will take place from 6 to 7 p.m. with the hearing, overseen by an administrative judge, beginning at 7.

This is the region’s opportunity to show up – in a large number – and support a $500 million project to convert the Dunkirk power plant from a coal to natural gas producer of electricity.

Why is this project so important? It comes down to two main reasons.

First, there has never been a $500 million economic project in this area. A project of that magnitude will bring in jobs for construction workers as well as suppliers. This type of activity will bring outside dollars into the region – lots of them.

Secondly, NRG is the largest taxpayer in the county. If NRG does not win approval from the Public Service Commission and Albany for this project, there will be a lot more pain for this region. Taxes will increase in Dunkirk – for the city and schools – and the county also will see a loss of revenue.

Who should be at the hearing? As many residents and local officials as possible.

According to those connected to Albany, local impact matters.

Everyone – including the Sierra Club and state Business Council that opposes this project – uses electricity. If NRG is not the provider for Western New York through National Grid, some other provider will be. That provider may be in Pennsylvania, Ohio or possibly even Canada.

We, however, have a provider who wants to remain here and already is a community partner.

We all have a stake in the hearing on July 15. Filling the Williams Center that evening in large numbers to support the NRG project has to be a priority.

That too is on us, not Albany.

Special day coming

Get ready for the annual special edition OBSERVER spotlighting the Laurel Run on Wednesday.

Proceeds from the $1 sale of the newspaper benefit The Resource Center and showcase the 17th annual event, which takes place July 19 and 20. In addition, Pizza Hut restaurant in Fredonia is holding a Laurel Run “Fun”draiser on Monday with 20 percent of its sales on that evening benefiting the Laurel Run.

John D’Agostino is the OBSERVER publisher. Send comments to jdagostino@observertoday.com or call 366-3000, ext. 401.