By Michael DePietro
A much-contested asphalt facility is expected to have its permit rescinded by the Town of Niagara, according to officials from Niagara County.
Per Public Information Officer Kevin Schuler, Niagara County Attorney Claude Joerg will be sending a letter to the town advising it to rescind the permit as the municipality did not notify or involve the county, per usual planning process, before issuing the permit.
Joerg said that, based on conversations with the town attorney, Michael Risman, it is expected the permit will be pulled.
Supervisor Lee Wallace said the town is waiting to receive the letter and will review options with its legal counsel, but confirmed "for sure" the proposal would be submitted back through the Niagara County Planning Board.
“Our attorney is giving me some basic ideas of the fact that, because we didn't do this the way we (now) believe we should have done this, it might change the whole concept of what we did prior. But we won't know that; we won't get into those details until we get the letter," Wallace said. "Obviously, if we've done anything in error we want to correct it, so when we get the letter we will have discussions with our counsel and determine what avenue we'll take. But I know one thing, for sure, is that it will be sent to the county Planning Board. I don't know what else will go on, but if we did something wrong there, we certainly want to correct it and do what's right. If that means that we will pull the whole project back and take another look, that may be the case; we don't know for sure. I'd be speculating at this point if I said I knew for sure."
As to why the project didn't go through the county Planning Board in the first place, Wallace said he believes it was an oversight in terms of interpreting local law and procedure.
"I don't think anybody did it on purpose. I think it was something that just was either overlooked or maybe was misinterpreted,” he said. “There's a lot of ways to interpret town law and municipal law, and maybe it was interpreted differently.
“(Now), some people have brought up some ideas and some objections as to what we should have done, and one of the things was sending this back to the county Planning Board, which we probably, at this point in time, looks like we should have done. So, I advised the county to send us a letter saying, you know, 'We should have done this,' and then we'll do what's necessary to make it right."
Alexandra Lettieri and Rosanne Dipizio, contacts related to 4660 Witmer Road LLC, AL Asphalt, Dipizio Construction – the companies connected to the project – have not replied to an interview request. Jeffrey Palumbo of Barclay Damon, the project’s legal representative, also was contacted for comment.
Among those in opposition to the asphalt production facility is Niagara University.
The proposed facility at 4660 Witmer Road would be nearby the southern entrance to the college campus.
Niagara University President the Rev. James J. Maher, C.M., sent out a statement to the university community Tuesday night. He stated, in part, “Niagara University sits on arguably one of the most beautiful pieces of land anywhere, and is just moments from Niagara Falls, one of the most breathtaking wonders of the world. Every day, thousands of members of the university family are on our campus to live, work, and study. Additionally, thousands more visit our campus each year to attend university family events and youth clinics or camps; play hockey, soccer, baseball, and other sports; and attend hundreds of events annually.
"Over the past few years, we have seen the Western New York region come to life as we have begun to address decades of abuse and neglect of our natural habitat. We have added to the beauty of our region by redeveloping green spaces and parks, restoring the natural landscape along our water’s edge, and connecting neighborhoods and parks through trails and pathways. Right in our community, we have seen the restoration of the Niagara Falls State Park, as well as the reconstruction of the Niagara Scenic Parkway.
"Despite this incredible progress in our community and in our region, today we are again faced with potential blight in our region with the proposed asphalt plant on Witmer Road in the Town of Niagara. Yes, this is adjacent to our campus, and yes, as a university, we are opposed to this plant being on our doorstep. However, our opposition is bigger than just Niagara University – we stand in opposition to this project for our entire community.
“We are not an ‘ivory tower’ insulated from the community around us. We are invested in Niagara Falls and the towns of Niagara and Lewiston and committed to contributing to healthy communities and a healthy environment. Our region has suffered from environmental degradation for more than a century. … The people of Niagara Falls and towns of Niagara and Lewiston have borne an unfair burden of pollution and toxic dumping, and it is irresponsible to consider moving our region backward with this type of seasonal asphalt manufacturing facility.”