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Municipal power project grinds to halt

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Just months after a bid for a municipally owned power company in St. Lawrence and Franklin counties appeared to pick up real steam, the project has ground to a standstill.

The North Country Power Authority hopes to deliver electricity to 24 towns at lower rates but its board no longer has enough members to take a vote and the not-for-profit that created the Authority is pushing for the chairman's ouster. David Sommerstein reports.

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The Alliance for Municipal Power led a twenty year charge that culminated late last year in the passage of a state law to allow two dozen towns to form a not-for-profit power company.

Robert Best, the chairman of the Alliance for Municipal Power, or AMP, said the transition from AMP to the company itself, the North Country Power Authority, has been a rocky one and it’s put the whole project in jeopardy.

"One board member has resigned, so things don’t seem to be moving forward," Best said. "They seemed to me, and I think AMP was concerned about the same thing, that they’re moving backward."

AMP passed a resolution last week calling for the North Country Power Authority’s chairman, Jim Monroe, Sr., to be removed.  The resolution cites “ineffective leadership," and accuses Monroe of “unethical behavior” and a “breach in confidentiality” for going public over a contract for the Authority’s legal counsel.  Monroe didn’t return a call to comment.

Robert Best says it was AMP who nominated Monroe for the chairmanship to begin with. "I’ve been friends with Jim for a long time, and I recommended him to be on the board and be chairman.  But things are not going well," Best said. "The board is falling apart."

The North Country Power Authority board member who resigned after just four months was former Potsdam village administrator Robert Burns.  He declined to speak on tape. Without naming names, he said “certain people were divulging confidential information”, so he stepped down.  Burns says he “still believes” in the municipalization project and thinks it will eventually move ahead.

Burns’ resignation leaves the North Country Power Authority without a quorum and therefore unable to act on anything.  The board is supposed to be made up of nine members.  But nominations are caught up in a glut of appointments with the new Cuomo Administration in Albany.

The next milestone would be negotiating with National Grid to buy up power lines and substations. "We’re trying to move from one milestone to the next," Best said.

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