Braving winter temperatures and wind on the Lake Erie harborfront in Dunkirk, a large crowd turned out Saturday morning to push for the repowering of NRG Dunkirk.
Spearheaded by state Sen. Catharine Young, a coalition of political, union, business and concerned citizens gathered in front of the city's Boardwalk Market to let the state Public Service Commission and Gov. Andrew Cuomo know that the repowering of Dunkirk NRG from the current coal-fired plant to a natural gas generation plant is crucial to the city, the Dunkirk City School District and Chautauqua County.
While not drawing the 2,000 plus a hearing held by the PSC at SUNY Fredonia did in July, some estimates had as many as 400 present in the cold and wind.
OBSERVER Photos by Gib Snyder
Pictured is part of the large crowd that gathered Saturday in front of Dunkirk's Boardwalk Market to show their support for the repowering of NRG Dunkirk.
Young thanked the crowd for coming, despite the conditions.
"So many times people say to me, I'm just one person, I can't make a difference, so I'm not going to say anything," Young stated. "We are talking loudly and clearly to the Public Service Commission to repower our NRG plant. ... They will hear us and this is all about our future. This is about our economy, this is about stabilizing our tax base, this is about us having a cleaner environment, saving our schools, saving our city. That's what it's about, it's about you and this community. ... You are making a difference."
Assemblyman Andrew Goodell was next to speak, telling the crowd that speaking with a united voice was critical to make sure Gov. Cuomo hears the call for leadership.
"Are we going to move forward on a brighter future or are we going in another direction?" Goodell asked. " ... Hundreds of people coming out saying, 'Gov. Cuomo, PSC, listen to us.' We need that leadership and we need to move forward. This is not a Republican or Democrat issue. ... Everyone knows that the future of this city depends on having a half-billion dollar investment right here in the city of Dunkirk producing low-cost power and saving money for everyone in Western New York."
Mayor Anthony J. Dolce called the community's effort to make repowering a reality consistent.
"This is not Democrat or Republican issue. It is not a union labor issue, business leader issue. It is one that every single stakeholder in the city of Dunkirk and Chautauqua County has gotten behind," Dolce stated, adding the effort was in the homestretch. "It is up to each and everyone of us to make sure our voices continue to be heard at the state level. ... Just know that what you are doing is time well spent and what you have done up to this point has not gone unrecognized.
"Not only do we need the repowering of NRG for the stability it brings to the now, but the possibilities it brings to our future."
Nancy Baker, president of the Dunkirk Teachers Association, thanked service members, former and current, for their service to the country. She added one thing the repowering has done is unite the local community.
"When I thought about what I was going to say today, I thought what would I say if Gov. Cuomo was sitting right next to me? Some of that I might not be able to say, but what I would tell him is we need his help," she stated. "The school district needs his help. The community of Dunkirk and the surrounding communities need his help. The children in Dunkirk need his help.
"We need him to use his influence on the Public Service Commission to encourage them and to pressure them to repower that power plant. ... We certainly need his help."
County Industrial Development Agency Director Bill Daly had an economic take to offer, asking people to remember what has gone on at the plant.
"In 2005, they brought in those massive piles of coal all the way from Wyoming because it was the environmentally friendly thing to do. They spent extra, NRG did that. What did they do later, $206 million to make that the cleanest coal plant in America. They did it," Daly stated. "So now when coal is no longer a viable fuel, what have they done? Did they abandon us? Did they walk away? No, they're going to spend half a billion dollars in Dunkirk and Chautauqua County."
Dave Wilkinson from I.B.E.W. 106 in Jamestown began by calling for a moment of silence before saying Dec. 7 is "our day to send a message. Gov. Cuomo you better hear us because we're not going to stop. ... We need your help today."
Wilkinson told the crowd that the governor can do it all on his own.
"All he has to do is say so and this community moves forward," he continued. "So Gov. Cuomo, you need to hear us. ... We can no longer afford to have Albany press down on us. If you want this community to survive don't press on us, pull us up because ... we're not leaving."
Wilkinson cited social media as another avenue to reach people to let them know about the benefits of the project for the local economy.
As the crowd dispersed Young said it was a "fantastic show of support from the community."
"I'm so impressed that so many people braved the cold weather to be here today. But again, it just underscores the fact that this is critically important to our future. The people of this community understand that, and that's why they're here today," she added. "We're not sure yet about what the agenda is going to be on Dec. 19, but regardless, we'll have a presence at that meeting."
That presence will come, in part, from a bus caravan being paid for by the Chamber of Commerce. Plans are for buses to leave the D&F Plaza at 2 a.m. on Dec. 19 and return that day. Signup can be done on the Chamber's website, chautauquachamber.org, or by calling one of the Chamber's offices.
In addition, supporters of repowering Dunkirk NRG are urged to log on to www.PowerUpWNY.org and send a message to the Governor and PSC voicing their support for repowering.
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