Saw alleviating Witmer Road flooding as personal crusade
For one county lawmaker retiring as the Niagara County Legislature downsizes in response to a public referendum, the final weeks of his term have provided an opportunity to bring a multi-year battle to a successful close.
For years before winning his one term as a county lawmaker, Legislator Russ Rizzo, I-North Tonawanda, fought to solve a flooding problem caused by a county landfill constructed in the late 1960s blocking drainage in the vicinity of Witmer Road. After becoming a county legislator, Rizzo relentlessly pursued the issue and won a major victory earlier this week with approval of a deal by both the Niagara County Legislature and the North Tonawanda Common Council.
"I went into county government and took inspiration from Ronald Reagan," Rizzo said. "Reagan didn't try to be everything to everyone. He set a few simple goals, and he worked to accomplish them. So did I."
Under terms of the intermunicipal agreement, the Niagara County Refuse Disposal District will pay the City of North Tonawanda $50,000 per year for five years to cover most costs related to a pair of drainage ditches constructed by the city.
Rizzo previously sought resolution of the issue while serving on the Common Council. He finally sought a seat in the County Legislature after realizing that he needed to apply influence at that level of government.
"I've always cared about city issues, but sometimes you have to go into another level of government to force results," Rizzo said. "So, that's what I did. It took me most of my term to forge this deal, but I'm pleased with the results."
In addition to the agreement between the Refuse District and North Tonawanda, a second agreement between North Tonawanda and Wheatfield paves the way for Wheatfield to connect the town portion of the road's drainage system to city-owned discharge pipes that ultimately empty into the Niagara River.
Rizzo sent a letter to North Tonawanda Mayor Robert G. Ortt late last week, after the final details of the deals had been reached. Rizzo had worked closely with Ortt's negotiating team to advance the city's position in the County Legislature, which had to ratify any final agreement between the two parties.
"It's been my great privilege to work closely with you all to reach an agreement that is truly favorable to the (city)," Rizzo wrote. "I believe the compensation to be provided by the (county) for access to our city sewer system is set at a reasonable level."
"Moreover, though, I am confident in the results this intermunicipal project will achieve," Rizzo said. "The NW Phase 2 drainage system will protect our neighbors' homes - and enhance property values."
A confident Rizzo said it felt good to finally bring closure to an issue that has plagued many of his neighbors almost annually.
"Government's actions should never harm home values, and should never harm quality of life for our residents," Rizzo said. "And, when they do, it's our job, as elected officials, to move bureaucratic roadblocks out of the way and fix things so people can get on with their lives."