by Terry Duffy
Rumors of a potential lagoon project eyed for Lewiston spilled over Monday at the Lewiston Town Board meeting, where a number of local residents vented their opposition on the mere idea of it ever becoming reality.
That issue was one of two environmental topics heard that night by the board, a group that also addressed finalizing a 2014 town budget, overdue drainage issues, performance complaints and now faces the uncertainty of the Nov. 5 elections.
Leading off, the lagoon proposal, presented recently by the Quasar Energy Group of Ohio for review to the Lewiston Planning Board and the Lewiston Environmental Commission, calls for a 6.5-million gallon lagoon, 10 feet deep, and encompassing roughly three acres to be located on a private property on the east side of Porter Center Road, between Langdon and Swann roads. Its function would be to serve as a storage basin for equate, a residue leftover from processing a mix of human and animal waste, plus restaurant and medical waste from a Quasar processing facility operating in Wheatfield. The fertilizer would go to serve the needs of area farmers, including crops intended for human consumption.
The Lewiston site recently won approval from the Niagara County Planning Board as a possible location. Situated in an undeveloped, rural area of the town southeast of Modern Disposal, it is currently zoned as light industrial.
The Quasar proposal to the Lewiston Planning Board follows on a similar one for lagoons and/or ponds by the company to the Town of Wheatfield Planning Board. As with Lewiston, it has not yet been formally presented for Town Board review.
But as with Wheatfield, proposals in both communities have generated significant opposition by residents.
Such was the case in Lewiston Monday, when eight neighboring residents from the Langdon Road, Williams Road, Dickersonville Road, Porter Center Road and Swann Road areas expressed their staunch opposition to Town Board members in the community comments segment. Town Supervisor Steve Reiter informed attendees that the matter remains under tabled review by the town's Planning Board and Environmental Commission. "Town Board members have not been approached on this," said Reiter. "It would be improper for us to comment."
But comment the local residents did on Monday, presenting arguments ranging from quality of life issues, to impacts of more undesired truck traffic, to unwanted infestations of vermin and other pests linked to its operations, including that of roundworm in neighboring soils. Williams Road resident John Grabowski, noting the influences of such operations as Modern and nearby CWM Chemical Services on the community, questioned the reasoning behind such a proposal. "Common sense must prevail," said Grabowski. "The board would be remiss in representing the interests of its residents if it approved this waste lagoon proposal."
GOP Town Councilman Ernie Palmer, who is vying for the supervisor's seat in Tuesday's elections against Democrat challenger Dennis Brochey, revealed his opposition to the plan in comments before and after the Monday protests by residents. In a statement released Friday, Oct. 26, Palmer said, "For far too long, Lewiston has been the end destination for garbage and waste. We must break this cycle and put an end to it. I will work with my colleagues on the Town Board to make sure this proposal is defeated."
Palmer noted he has invited the input by residents, both at Monday's session and via an online petition,www.protectlewiston.com, to oppose the Quasar plan.
Following the Monday session, he reiterated his opposition, stating, "Lewiston can no longer be the end-destination for other people's garbage and waste. I am concerned about the additional truck traffic in the area. I am concerned that the proposed location is 900 feet from an existing single family home and several others are nearby. I am also concerned about potential runoff into our waterways. The substance to be stored contains potentially high metal levels and has not proven to be environmentally safe. (I) will vote against this measure when it comes before the board, and I believe my colleagues will do the same."
At this writing, community opposition to the plan continues to build, the latest being an organizing effort on Facebook by a group calling itself Lewiston Residents Against Lagoons, which is mobilizing support online.
The Town of Lewiston Planning Board is expected to review the proposal further at its upcoming meeting, Nov. 21 at Town Hall.
The next environmental controversy heard Monday involved continuing inaction by the town over its funding contributions for environmental attorney Gary Abraham. Members of Residents for Responsible Government, which remains in staunch opposition to long-sought plans by CWM for expansion and a new Residuals Management Unit 2 hazardous waste landfill, were in attendance. They questioned why the continuing inaction by the town over funding Abraham, particularly in light of its earlier commitment to do so on Oct. 7 via a Palmer-sponsored, approved resolution for creation of an Environmental Protection Fund.
"... Just as (DEC) hearings are expected to begin, it is bewildering that any board member could have questions or want to suddenly change the practice they have historically supported," commented resident Amy Witryol. She was commenting on revelations that the town has been remiss in the form of its complete non-funding of Abraham over the past four years, of $18,000 in past-due funding due to the county for his services, and the fact that Lewiston still had not appropriated the latest $50,000 funding commitment the Town Board approved on Oct. 7.
"It's like having a good ambulance service for seven years, not paying the bill in four years, and then refusing payment and halting the ambulance while someone is lying injured in the middle of the road," said Witryol. "It's not for lack of an invoice. It's like voting against crime and refusing to fund the police."
Palmer, who has now assumed the role of commenting in lieu of Reiter on town matters, stated following the session, "We approved payment of the $18,000 to the county pending receipt of an invoice to assist in payment of attorney Abraham in the fight against CWM expansion. Lewiston is doing its part. We are hoping for assistance from other nearby communities affected by the truck traffic. That payment brings the account current and we plan on funding $50,000 in the Environmental Fund for 2014. We will negotiate with the county over who is responsible for payment going forward, but the bottom line is the process can continue immediately and we remain opposed to expansion."
However, it was revealed by RRG that, as of Thursday, the town still has not moved on any of its funding to the county for Abraham.
"This last Monday night, we were encouraged Lewiston reportedly agreed to transfer $18,000 of the $50,000 due the county to put the experts back to work," said RRG President April Fideli. "This would mark the town's first contribution in four years. However, as of Thursday morning we've not received confirmation that Lewiston has transferred any funds to the county or that the (Abraham legal) experts have been authorized to review thousands of pages of CWM documents released since Lewiston apparently halted their preparation, months ago.
"We're pleased Lewiston has passed resolutions opposing CWM expansion, however, we've not seen action when action has been required," said Fideli. "We hope the Lewiston board will do its part to get the experts back to work through the conclusion of the state siting process. And we hope the experts can then make up for lost time."
Questions remain on town's intent
In an unexpected disclosure Friday, Witryol provided documents revealing the town's apparent intent to recuse itself from working with attorney Abraham as late as June 2013, and its continued intents to sidestep its funding.
"Mike Dowd recused himself from CWM matters for Lewiston in a March 2010 letter. Mike Johnson told me yesterday (Thursday) that (the) county told him that $18k would put the health, science and legal team back on the clock. That was untrue. It only brings the county from (negative) $18k to $0, leaving county $0 to work with. $50,000 in next year's budget is wholly unrelated to the $50,000 check the town should send the county, now.
"Lewiston could wait for paperwork but they also could have sent (the) county a letter saying that they fully and immediately intend to honor their 50/50 arrangement subject to review of the paperwork. A written assurance probably would have been enough for the county, but here we are months later, with DEC documents piling up as Siting is upon us.
"Lori Caso told Sentinel last week CWM expects its application to be deemed complete in mid-November. The governor is required by law to convene a Siting Board within 15 days after an application is complete. ... Each day of delay weakens the defense in CWM hearings. It appears there have been months of deception on the part of the Town Board."
Below, find excerpts of a FOIA letter from Town of Lewiston Attorney Michael J. Dowd to attorney Gary Abraham, dated June 3, 2013, discussing the town's intent on retaining Abraham's services.
"Re: Chemical Waste Management Services, Inc.
"Dear Mr. Abraham,
"Some time ago you were kind enough to discuss the above referenced matter with me. During our conversation I indicated the town's surprise that a formal position statement had been submitted by you to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation on behalf of the Town of Lewiston. Let this correspondence confirm that the town terminated its financial support of Niagara County's engagement of your firm several years ago. While the town may have agreed with the context of the position statement it was troubling that it had been submitted without knowledge of the town and consequently, without the opportunity to review and comment on the statement before its submission.
"I do not doubt that your inclusion of the Town of Lewiston was based on your misunderstanding that the town was no longer participating with the county regarding your engagement. The Town of Lewiston has been consistent that any expansion of the facility is not in the best interest of the town, and in the event the town determines to engage your services in the future you will be contacted. ...
"Respectfully Michael J. Dowd
"Cc: Lewiston Town Board"
And so the wait continues. It was revealed, however, on Monday, the town, weeks late, has now begun the process in earnest toward finalizing its 2014 budget, which contains, among other items, the still anticipated funding for Abraham. Town Finance Director Michael Johnson said Reiter and board members would be holding final meetings on Monday afternoon with department heads to fine-tune budget requests. Likely to be reviewed are impending retirements in various departments and highway funding areas. The town announced it will hold a public hearing Thursday, Nov. 7, at 6 p.m. on the preliminary budget for fiscal year 2014.
According to overview numbers released this week by Johnson, the plan totals $17.241 million, and includes funding of $11.5 million in total appropriations (General, General/Outside Village, Highway/Drainage-town outside village, and Water Pollution Control Center), with $0 to be raised by taxes. It also includes $5.737 million in Special Districts funding (Lewiston Water Improvement, Fire Protection, Lewiston Master Sewer, Lewiston South Sewer, Lewiston Heights and Refuse titles appropriations), with $2.465 million raised via taxes.
The plan includes a 3 percent salary increase for town employees, excluding town supervisor and council members for 2014. According to Town Clerk Carol Brandon, salaries for "certain town officers" are as follows: supervisor, $41,906; council members (four), $13,856; highway superintendent, $70,181; town clerk, $48,672; and town justices (two), $27,399.
In other news Monday:
•In community comments, Upper Mountain Fire Co. President Greg Sitek criticized Palmer and the board for its recent resolution to the state, calling on the New York Power Authority to resume funding of police and fire services in the town. Sitek faulted the town for not consulting with Upper Mountain in the first place as it prepared the resolution, noting a number of inaccuracies contained in the resolution as a result, and the fact that NYPA does in fact work with Upper Mountain. He further stated that other interests, namely Mount St. Mary's Hospital and Health Center and the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission, do not fund Upper Mountain for its services.
Sitek closed by asking the Town Board to rescind its resolution. No board action was taken on his request.
In response to Sitek, Palmer, who sponsored the resolution, said, "I will continue my fight to have the New York Power Authority reimburse the Town of Lewiston for first-responder services rendered at their facility. NYPA is quick to send money to communities nowhere near Lewiston, but when it comes (to) taking care of their own, they are deficient. Recent misguided comments made by a member of the Upper Mountain Fire Co. were irresponsible and well off the mark. The resolution isn't about the Upper Mountain Fire Co.; it is about giving the taxpayers of Lewiston who fund the fire companies and police department some much needed relief from paying for their existence."
•Paulette Glasgow berated Reiter and the Town Board over their silence on investigations last summer by the state attorney general's office and FBI over improprieties involving Reiter. "These past few months individuals have talked about ethics, transparency and open government, yet this board continues to ignore addressing this issue and has taken no action," she said.
She closed her comments with a call for Palmer "to make the motion asking for the resignation of Steven L. Reiter."
No related action was taken.