By Timothy Chipp
Niagara Gazette —
Lewiston Town Hall filled with concerned residents Monday as the town’s board gathered for its monthly work session.
To the crowd, many from the activist group Residents for Responsible Government, there was one thing on their minds. They needed to know whether the town board would once again set aside a $50,000 figure in its 2014 budget to fight the expansion of Chemical Waste Management, a disposal site for many harmful chemical compounds.
They got their wish, in a way, with the creation of an environmental protection fund, designed to cover the town’s agreed upon responsibility paying for the services of Cattaraugus County-based Gary Abraham. Even though none of them were allowed to address the board during the proceedings.
“The room was packed, no one was allowed to speak but $50,000 was still set aside for the environmental attorney,” Tim Henderson, a member of RRG’s board of directors, said after the meeting’s conclusion. “I’d call it an absolute victory for Lewiston and now its on to the county.”
Henderson is only partially correct, though. Because the town board has yet to approve its spending plan – it must do so before Nov. 20 – there is no money set aside for assisting in paying Abraham.
Action Monday merely created a line in its 2014 spending plans earmarked for paying the lawyer should Niagara County call upon the town to assist in the fight against CWM. No dollar amount was determined, as town action simply promised at least half the money the board allocates to its Attorney Contingency and Litigation budget line to the new fund, called the Environmental Protection Fund.
Each year, town finance manager Michael Johnson said, the town has supplied $100,000 to the contingency line in its spending plans, but rarely uses the high total. This year is no different, with only about $30,000 of the total spent through the first three quarters of the year.
Still, if the board chooses to reduce the amount set aside for the contingency, it could affect the environmental protection fund’s value.
Others in the crowd Monday felt the money to pay Abraham shouldn’t be based on the town’s contingency for outside council at all. In a letter addressed to supervisor Steve Reiter, Amy Hope Witryol, a Lewiston resident and former bank executive who has researched the waste industry and public policy in Niagara County for years, said the town should be using money paid to it by CWM, not taxpayer money, to fight the expansion.
Each year, the town receives a portion of gross receipt tax money from the company. In 2013, the figure was calculated to be $297,000, well in excess of the $50,000 the town would be responsible for paying the county for Abraham.
“One of the primary purposes of the state-mandated gross receipts tax CWM pays to Lewiston is to protect the town from the adverse affects of the facility,” she said. “None of the town board spending of $297,000 in CWM host monies received in 2013 was used for this intended purpose. None from 2012 or 2011 or 2010. None since (Reiter) took office.”
While the residents urged the town to fund the fight’s legal measures, members of the town board, including Reiter and Councilman, and Republican candidate for supervisor, Ernest Palmer, expressed their beliefs that Lewiston shouldn’t be alone in the financial portion of the fight.
Both elected officials said the town should be looking at neighboring towns, such as Porter, Cambria and Wilson, to lend a hand in combating the expansion.
“We need to think about a partnership so the burden isn’t entirely on Lewiston residents,” Palmer said. “The truck traffic for CWM goes through Cambria, it goes through Porter. They need to contribute too.”
Reiter added state officials should also be included in the process, fighting the expansion. But Witryol said both Lewiston’s representatives in Albany have been silent or spoken in favor of CWM in recent years.
Sen. George Maziarz, R-Newfane, she said, has “benefitted from more than $170,000 in ... donations into committees he controls in the past seven years.”
Reiter did express interest in meeting with Abraham, though, a meeting he said he’d need to set up with the county.
“We’ve never met him,” he said. “It would be nice to hear what services he’s going to provide instead of just handing over a check for $50,000 to the county.”
Democrat candidate for supervisor Dennis Brochey, who was unable to attend Monday’s meeting due to commitments to the Lewiston Village Board, where he serves as a trustee, said he’s opposed to any further expansion of CWM.
He said the efforts of the town board in creating the fund to help fight the company’s expansion need to be followed through, adding financing the lawyer is the responsibility of the board whether it received a recent bill or not.
“The town may not have been issued a bill, but at the same time, they know there’s people fighting the expansion,” he said. “The board shouldn’t turn its back on its obligation. The entire town, in my opinion, probably doesn’t want to see CWM there.