Board endorses lawsuit, accepts two resignations
By Terry Duffy
Monday's work session saw the Lewiston Town Board, as anticipated, move on setting new water rates for town residential and business users.
The approval by a 5-0 vote comes following the board's earlier action to create a single water district for the town. It establishes a new local law titled "Water District Rules and Regulations."
Board approval came after a public hearing that saw limited comments.
The town's new rate/fee/charge structure follows action by the Niagara County Water District last month to increase water rates for its serviced municipalities - an average hike of 15 cents per 1,000 gallons for residential users; slightly higher for businesses.
For customers in the newly formed Town of Lewiston water district, water rates are as follows: minimum charge $29.06 per quarter for 0 to 1,000 cubic feet (or 7,480 gallons). The rate for more than 1,000 cubic feet is $0.02275 per cubic foot.
In addition, the board approved a new schedule of charges and fees that, along with the new rate, become effective on Jan. 1, 2018. These include a $2 water meter testing fee (performed on the request of the customer); a service charge to defray the cost of reading meters, ranging from $2 to $5 per quarter; and a special water district improvement fee as follows: residential customers, $2.50 per quarter; and non-residential customers, $10 per quarter.
Water customers in areas "not constituted as a special water improvement district and each customer not located in the Town of Lewiston" would have a charge of $15 per quarter.
As part of approving the new schedule of water rate/fees/charges, the Town Board also approved the aforementioned changes "may be amended at any time and from time to time by the Town Board."
Sewer use rates were not included in the above revised schedules and are an additional charge on a user's bill.
In the public hearing segment that led off, resident Nancy Correa, a member of the Lewiston Taxpayer Accountability and Action Alliance, inquired on the Town Board's ability to "at any given time" raise rates in the future as circumstances dictated.
"I would strongly object to that," she said.
In response, Attorney for the Town Ryan Parisi said the measure allows the Town Board to set future rates by resolution.
"Most municipalities don't include their rates in their laws because, when you include the rate in your law, you have a cumbersome process to go through when you want to change that rate," he said.
Parisi said Lewiston's rates are dictated "by another source" - the Niagara County Water District. "This allows the Town Board to determine those rates in a less cumbersome process."
Parisi and board members explained any future water rate changes by resolution would see the action taking place in a public meeting forum with time for input by any interested party.
"It's not something that would happen behind closed doors," he said. "It would be open; it just gives the board the ability to do that (any future changes)."
"I don't feel comfortable with that," Correa responded. "That I object to, that 'by resolution.' "
Soon after, the board went on to approve the measure.
In other news from the session:
Bar Fight Investigations
Lewiston Police Department Chief Frank Previte informed the Town Board an LPD investigation is continuing into a Nov. 23 incident at The Brickyard Pub & B.B.Q. A female bystander died following a fight outside the bar. Arden C. Kroetsch, 27, of Lewiston, reportedly passed of natural causes.
"I wanted to make the board aware we did have an incident on (early morning) Thanksgiving," Previte said. "It was basically a bar fight; we made an arrest. Somebody got their nose broken; it was bar fight outside of The Brickyard.
"In the course of that, there was a female that was involved. She was trying to break the fight up. She didn't sustain any injury that night or anything else. But, unfortunately, two weeks later, she was actually on the phone with one of my officers and the phone went dead. And somebody got on the phone, said she was having a seizure, and she ended up passing away the next night.
"So, it's been all over social media that it's a homicide and that it was involved with this fight we had, and that's the reason (for the cause of the woman's death). ... We have no indication to believe that whatsoever. We were present at the medical examiner's office the next day up in Erie County for an autopsy. The medical examiner found no link or no cause to that."
Previte explained, "Really, we're investigating two separate things. We already made an arrest on one, the bar fight. Her death is an investigation that we're doing, but there's no reason for us to believe (it was homicide). ...
"We're not investigating any homicide. At this point we do not believe that the two are linked until a medical examiner or a forensic pathologist would be able to tell us that those are linked; that one is the cause of the other. They were two separate incidents that we're handling at this time. ...
"The family is very supportive, with us and working with us, and they're very supportive. ...
"It's an ongoing investigation."
The Town Board announced its municipal attorney, A. Joseph Catalano, would resign his position effective Dec. 31.
The board also announced Finance and Budget Director Martha Blazick would resign her position effective March 1, 2018.
Blazick, who cited a desire for more time with her family as her reason for leaving, also requested and received board approval to remain in a part-time capacity, at 20 hours per week for 2018, to train her replacement.
It is anticipated the board will soon begin a search for Blazick's replacement.
The Lewiston Town Board announced its support of a lawsuit filed in Erie County Supreme Court by Lewiston resident Amy Witryol and Thomas Freck of the Town of Porter against the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, CWM Chemical Services LLC and its parent company, Waste Management of Houston.
The suit, filed in October, seeks to block any commercial importation of PCBs and other hazardous waste for treatment, storage and other disposal activities at the CWM facility.
CWM reached airspace capacity at its Residuals Management Unit 1 landfill in November 2015 and ceased hazardous waste operations at that time. The DEC officially certified the RMU-1 closure in 2017.
The Witryol-Freck lawsuit also seeks to have the DEC adhere to its own 1993-era rulings providing for hazardous waste activities to cease following closure of RMU-1.
Witryol told the board she and Freck are pursuing the suit solely as a matter of public interest for the community. She did not request any economic assistance from the town, and none was offered.
"This isn't really an Amy Witryol suit; this is a public interest suit," she told Supervisor Steve Broderick and board members. "I wouldn't be bringing a lawsuit if it were not in the public interest."
"This is about seeing that the landfill that closed ... in 2017 as officially certified by DEC, remains so, and that the activities associated with the 1993 approval for that also expire, as intended by that approval," she added. "So (that residents) ... (do) not wake up five years from now with 60,000 trucks a year potentially coming through the Town of Lewiston for treatment or packaging in a facility near our schools, in vented tanks, vented mixing pits. Some of the treatment facilities out there include an 8,000-gallon tank for cyanide. And these tanks must be vented to keep them from exploding."
Witryol said the economic cost an operation such as CWM has on the community doesn't justify related operations.
"Of course, CWM will argue the engineering and the safety next year in adjuratory hearings. We will also argue the economics," she said. "I (won't) get into the weeds of the technical aspects of the economics. But when you have highly stigmatized facilities, and they're only 10 of these left in the United States, with respect to treatment, storage and disposal, there is a cost to municipalities. And if there weren't, you don't have to be an economist to figure out there aren't towns and counties coming out of the woodwork all over the United Sates trying to recruit one of these facilities to their towns. And certainly there are towns that are really desperate and in desperate straits. Those aren't communities in depressed areas of the United States that are out there pleading for CWM to relocate to their town.
"So, if it's not important to residents to protect the health and safety of all the residents in the town, working as best we can to use all of our collective resources as efficiently as possible for the public good, and some individuals at great expense, solely to benefit the public and not themselves, then I would ask people to also consider that there clearly is an economic benefit to the community. And to our families, who not only want to give our kids a good education, but hopefully have a thriving economy for them to come home to when they complete their education. So they, too, can live, work and raise a family in the community.
"I truly believe that this particular cause, preventing the last spark out of that facility, a mile from our school property, from turning into an inferno five years from now, when as a matter of law, we wouldn't be able to do anything about it, was important enough to take this action.
"I look forward to the town's participation in whatever manner you deem appropriate."