Further legal action considered
By Lauren Zaepfel
The Wheatfield Town Board decided Monday it will consult the law firm Bond, Schenck & King on taking possible further action against the Department of Agriculture & Markets' June 9 ruling that the town's biosolids law is "unreasonably" restrictive.
The town law prohibits the use of material derived from human waste, including Quasar Energy Group's equate, on town land.
Residents have said they have safety and health concerns regarding the use of biosolids.
"I thought that the Ag. and Markets response was selective and just ingenuous," Julie Otto said. "I think it's a blatant disregard for our health and safety as residents."
State Supreme Court Justice Frank Caruso initially ruled the law legitimate in May. He stated it was "properly passed with the appropriate amount of scrutiny."
However, Ag. and Markets came back to the town this month with an opposing response to the law, and said it restricts local farming. It gave the town 30 days to confirm its law will not be imposed.
Instead, the town, with its legal representatives, plans to prepare a response to Ag. and Markets with a potential challenge to its ruling.
At this point, Cliffe said, the town plans to "write a letter to them and say we disagree."
In other news:
•The town's Comprehensive Plan Task Force suggested the board adopt a law that consolidates current zoning regulations and those of the Federal Aviation Administration regarding commercial development structures near the Niagara Falls International Airport to avoid potential encroachment issues.
"What we're doing is codifying existing rules that already are in place," said Drew Reilly, engineer at Wendel, representing the task force. He added, "Right now, if you were to put up a large structure anywhere near the airport, you're required to notify FAA. And the FAA provides comments and then the Planning Board deals with projects around the airport and they typically put restrictions on ... projects going in and around the airport. We're just taking all those things and putting them in the law, so no one forgets about them and that (they know they're) on the books."
These existing rules apply to regulations on height, glare, radio operations and ponds.
By consolidating all of these regulations under the proposed town law, Reilly said, it would make the development process "more efficient for the Planning Board and for the applicants ... because they don't have to search for this information."
He said, in the past, applicants have approached the Planning Board with projects that are against existing regulations and stated they were unaware of certain rules. With this law, by compiling everything and organizing it in one place, the regulations would be clearer for applicants.
To help convey the regulations of the law, Reilly said the task force obtained maps from the airport that show protection areas. The task force then followed the airport maps' parameters and placed a line on the town's zoning map to help indicate which areas fall under the regulations.
He said developers within the area would then have a clear indication of what regulations their projects would fall under, based on location. Therefore, they would have more initial knowledge of whether or not projects would be approved by the Planning Board.
"This is not about stopping projects," Reilly said. "There's no restrictions on uses. It's basically making those projects better and more compatible with the airport. That is the purpose of the law."
Reilly further said the town needs to ensure these projects are made according to code, not only because of the airport, but because of the future security of the air base, as well.
If the law is not passed, Reilly said, "This base, in the future, could be closed with the problems we've created with the local land uses."
Niagara Military Affairs Council Chairman John A. Cooper Sr. said the U.S. Air Force undergoes a base realignment and closure (BRAC) process used by the military when considering downsizing. During the BRAC process, elements of the base are scored. One factor is the level of encroachment on the base.
"If there's a base ... that has a lot of encroachment issues, towers and neighborhoods right up against the runaways and (things) like that, they (could) say, 'Let's close this place,' " Cooper said.
That being said, NIMAC board of directors member and the town's task force facilitator, Col. Richard Muscatello, USAF (Ret.), said the base provided $88 million in wages and $147 million in purchasing services last year alone.
"So you can see the economic value," he said.
Overall, Reilly said, "We're doing this because we want to protect the air base, but the rules also apply to the airport and we think both work together."
Residents living in the airport impact area said they were concerned about the potential effect of the law on expanding their residential homes. In response, Reilly said, "Zoning laws are for people who develop. If you're a property owner there in a residential house, this law will have no impact on you. If it's for someone who's developing, the developer needs to know these are the rules and regulations within the town."
He added, "If you put a big antenna, broadcasting signals, the FAA is going to have a big problem with that, and they want the town to enforce that issue."
"It's not an issue of taking away your rights, of what to do with this land; it's adding regulations that already exist (and indicating) that this is how we regulate them," he added.
In order to give residents time to make additional inquiries, Cliffe said, "We do not have to pass this tonight. There's plenty of time for people to make comment."
No action was taken by the board on this subject. Cliffe said the proposed law would likely be brought forth to the board again in another month.