NRG, population loss among topics discussed at executive breakfast | News, Sports, Jobs

Pictured are some of the people who attended Friday’s county executive breakfast sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce.

On the plate were eggs, potatoes and sausage, but when it came to questions, it was an assortment of topics at the Chautauqua County Chamber Executive Breakfast.

Business representatives and elected officials gathered at the Clarion hotel and convention center in Dunkirk on Friday morning to ask questions of the departmental executive PJ Wendel on various subjects. Among the questions posed during the hour-long discussion were the future of the NRG factory in Dunkirk, the latest census figures, childcare challenges, federal funds and broadband.

For the Dunkirk power station, Wendel has personally declared that he would like it to be converted to natural gas. That being said, at least one study has been done on its use. “One of the things we were looking at is battery storage, data storage, data collection. Right now we have a group looking at the waste that is on site for fly ash,” he said.

Wendel said the plant is still owned by NRG, so the company must agree to plans for its future.

Another topic he was asked about was the county’s two airports. In Dunkirk, Wendel said ImmunityBio and Wells Food Corp. regularly use the airport. Jamestown Airport is currently closed due to runway reconstruction. He hopes it will be reopened on June 10.

Chautauqua County Chamber President and CEO Daniel Heitzenrater, left, reads questions posed by the public to County Executive PJ Wendel, during Friday’s breakfast in Dunkirk. Photos of Gregory Bacon

Jamestown Airport now has a one-hour charging station for battery-powered aircraft. A company recently requested to use it, but was unable to do so due to the runway being closed. Wendel hopes that once the runway is completed, more battery-powered planes will use it. “Will it take off, we don’t know, but we’re going to put ourselves on the map to say right away that we’re going to be a load center”, he said.

Wendel was asked about population loss, the difficulty of developing a workforce, and ways the county can help parents who work with child care. “There is no miracle solution” was an answer he gave more than once, but insisted the county would do what it could.

Along with the population, Wendel noted that the county has been declining since the 1980s. He attributes some of that to the state government. “The state and our governors for the past eight years or more have made the business climate in New York State very difficult,” he said.

He talked about a company that had 1,500 employees. “He moved his headquarters and those people to Texas. He now has 2,500 employees but pays the same taxes on that business. That’s a lot to say.” said Wendel.

Wendel said they put more “ready to use sites” for developments, so when companies like Amazon or others approach the county for a development that might bring people to the area, they’ll be more likely to build. “We need to invest in our water and sewage. … We are trying to become more business-friendly in Chautauqua County,” he said.

He also encouraged the business leaders gathered in the room to speak positively about the region. “We really need to show off the gems and gems that we have, whether it’s Lake Findley, Lake Chautauqua, the ‘lake’ I call here in Lake Erie, the waterfront and the ports. Really everything, we need to share this with the world and let people see what we have here,” he said.

In addition to water and sewer, Wendel said they are working hard to expand high-speed broadband in the county. The county has set aside $2.5 million from its American Rescue Plan Act funds. Meanwhile, the federal government also sent New York State $100 million for high-speed internet. “The big question is how do we get it. We’re partnering with DFT. … I’m committed to keeping this local. Why would we bring in a company from elsewhere when we have DFT here, which has made a ton of work and invested his own funds,” he said.

In addition to broadband and shovel-ready sites, Wendel said they are using ARPA and infrastructure funds to install public sewer districts around Chautauqua Lake. “What we’ve found over the years is that the septic tanks near or by the lake have failed, so we’re going to keep that out of the lake,” he said.

For Lake Erie, he wants to put more effort into Barcelona Harbor, which was dredged less than two years ago but all the sediment has returned. “I contacted Senator Schumer. He is a great champion of Lake Erie. .. We have a fishery. We have other economic engines that exist – dive boats, charters – we need to open this port”, he said.

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