by Terry Duffy
The Town of Lewiston moved Tuesday on finalizing its agreement with Niagara County to fund the legal services of environmental attorney Gary Abraham.
The measure to retain Abraham was completed as anticipation builds in the area on the state Department of Environmental Conservation's pending "notice of application" announcement for CWM Chemical Services in Porter, which is seeking DEC approval for a long-term operating permit and expansion - namely a new Residuals Management Unit 2 hazardous waste landfill. Once that notice is issued, the governor's office is expected to begin selection of a siting board, Lewiston would begin organizing its CWM Citizens Advisory Committee to help facilitate discussions with the state, and a public comment period will commence, leading to the DEC's ultimate ruling on the future of CWM.
It's a process that is likely to be contentious as well as nerve-wracking for the area's residents and its interests, as the state's final decision on CWM's long-term operations and expansion one way or another will ultimately have a major impact on the region.
Both the Town of Lewiston and Niagara County have been on record for years in opposing any DEC approval of permits allowing for the continued long-term operation and expansion at CWM. Abraham, in fact, was retained to defend the area's interests in the process and in anticipated court actions.
Particulars of the finalized agreement call for a continuation of the current funding package, with alternating contributions of $50,000 annually coming from the county and town to pay for Abraham's services. It's an agreement package that has existed between the county and town for a number of years.
Lewiston contributed $50,000 in 2013 to make up for a lapse in payment to the county from previous years, when no payment was made under the Steve Reiter administration. Of that total, $18,000 has been expended thus far for Abraham, with $32,000 now being held in escrow. Niagara County has committed the next $50,000 and Tuesday's approval commits Lewiston for funding another $50,000 - money already appropriated under the 2014 town budget. The county would be paying the next $50,000 for a total of $200,000 committed to under the current agreement.
Any furtherance of funding to retain Abraham would be subject to future negotiations between the town and county, should the need present itself. And that would all be dependent on the DEC decision and the outcome of any expected court battles.
It's become an issue that new Supervisor Dennis Brochey said he admittedly does not feel comfortable with, especially in light of very tight and uncertain financial times already existing in the town. "I really don't know if there's enough money in there," said Brochey Tuesday to Town Board members Ron Winkley, Al Bax and Mike Marra, before he finally signed off on authorizing the measure.
"I'm not for any expansion of CWM," said Brochey later. "But I feel like I'm playing with a double-edged sword."
At issue is pending negotiations with town unions; the Lewiston Police contract; overdue heating and air conditioning work to be done on the Lewiston Senior Center; a new seniors bus vehicle; an inadequate town paving budget; funding requests for the Sanborn Library; the Sanborn Historical Society - the list goes on and on. And that's not even taking into consideration the latest bombshell to hit Town Hall - news this week of a lawsuit filed by Modern against Lewiston stemming from plans for residential development in the Ridge-Model City roads neighborhood neighboring Modern's operations.
"The seniors (and others) are just as important as anything else," said Brochey.
Brochey said he's been thoroughly reviewing all town finances with new Town Finance Director Paul Kloosterman, and he doesn't like what he's finding. He revealed a potential $1 million to $1.5 million shortage - one that is "very troubling."
Brochey said he's been in discussion with the New York Power Authority regarding restructuring usage of the annual $511,000 in NYPA funding to help fund town operations and expenses. He's also seeing what he can do with the latest gross receipts tax payment from CWM - $136,630 that was received just this past week.
Brochey said he intends to discuss the latest troubling financial revelations facing the town in detail at Monday's board meeting. "I'm doing everything I can to avoid a town tax," said Brochey. "The outcome of this - it worries me."