The New York State Power Authority’s top administrator on Wednesday adamantly denied the assertion that a lawsuit filed by Niagara County could have a negative impact on the county’s involvement in a proposed offshore wind-energy project in Western New York.

Responding to concerns raised this week by county lawmakers, Power Authority President and Chief Executive Officer Richard Kessel insisted that ongoing litigation between the county and the authority would have no bearing on choices made by the authority as it continues to develop the so-called Great Lakes Offshore Wind Project.

“I am 100 percent in line with having the Niagara County Legislature and Niagara County participate fully in this project,” Kessel said.

Specific locations for authority-sponsored wind energy initiatives have not yet been decided. When the project was first announced by Kessel back on Earth Day, he said activities would occur along the shorelines of lakes Erie and Ontario.

On Tuesday, Legislator Renae Kimble, D-Niagara Falls, expressed concern about the site selection process potentially being “tainted” after lawmakers received a copy of a weekly update from the county’s lobbying firm which suggested the lawsuit was having an impact on the firm’s ability to broker a meeting with authority officials.

Included in the document from Albany-based lobbyist Capital Public Strategies was a reference to attempts made by the firm to arrange a meeting with the authority to discuss the offshore wind-energy initiative. The report included a line suggesting that the effort had been “delayed” due to ongoing litigation between the county and the authority. County lawmakers said Tuesday they intended to discuss the document with representatives from the lobbying firm to determine if its assessment of the situation was accurate.

Chairman Bill Ross, C-Wheatfield, said Wednesday afternoon that he had not yet received a reply from the lobbying firm.

County lawmakers agreed earlier this year to file a lawsuit against the power authority that seeks to rescind the transfer of more than $500 million in surplus authority funds to the State of New York. Earlier this month, state Supreme Court Justice Ralph Boniello III rejected state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s request for a change of venue in the case.

Kessel said he was not aware of the lobbyist’s attempt to arrange a meeting with the authority and said no one from the firm contacted him to schedule any such meeting. Kessel insisted that the authority remains willing to discuss aspects of the wind-energy project with county lawmakers or other representatives from the county.

Kessel cited a May 6, 2009, letter he wrote to Ross acknowledging the county’s interest in the wind initiative and advising him that authority staff would reach out to the Legislature with “notification of all meetings and conversations” relating to the project. Kessel said copies of the letter were delivered to every county lawmaker at that time.

“I was encouraged by your letter as well as the offer of support from Niagara County in terms of resources,” Kessel wrote. “I agree that the possibilities for establishing a manufacturing infrastructure related to the very components used to assemble the wind turbines themselves are very exciting. The potential economic development benefits for Niagara County and Western New York are numerous.”

In June, Kessel disclosed the authority has received 14 requests for expressions of interest from companies interested in participating in the project.

On Wednesday, he said he expected the formal request for proposals to be ready on schedule and before the end of this year.

“We absolutely want Niagara County to be part of the offshore wind project,” Kessel said. “They have been asked to be part of the process since we started the process.”

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