Niagara Gazette

October 30, 2013

UPDATE: Lewiston Town Board votes to pay legal bill over CWM expansion fight

By Timothy Chipp
Niagara Gazette

Results of Monday’s Lewiston Town Board meeting may not be exactly what environmentalist groups and residents may have wanted, but an outstanding bill is set to be paid.

Councilman Ernie Palmer said an $18,000 payment Niagara County says the town owes in fighting the proposed expansion of Chemical Waste Management is approved to be paid, pending the receipt of an actual bill from the county.

He said making sure the account balance is zero heading into 2014 is important, but the town likely wouldn’t be contributing anything more this year to the fight.

“We want to bring the account balance to zero,” Palmer said. “We’ll worry about next year, next year. It’s only eight or nine weeks away.”

The decision to pay the bill, which is currently in escrow, came following an executive session Monday evening following the conclusion of routine town board business.

In 2006, the town entered into an agreement with Niagara County to retain the services of environmental attorney Gary Abraham, an Allegany-based lawyer, to legally fight any expansion of the disposal site for chemical waste located in the vicinity of the Lewiston-Porter school district buildings.

Since then, the town contributed $50,000 in legal fees to the fight in both 2007 and 2009, but hasn’t been asked by the county to pay anything further, according to officials.

Earlier this month, the board voted to set aside at least half of its outside attorney reserve account to fund the legal fight in 2014. Next year’s budget is not expected to be complete until late next week, though, and the town could still decide not to fund the account.

In 2013’s budget, the town set aside $100,000 in the line to pay for any outside consulting work needed from specialists aside from the everyday town attorney, Mark Davis. If the dollar amount holds true in 2014, the necessary $50,000 would be set aside to pay Abraham.

While it’s not outside the realm of possibility the town decides to take a further step and authorize spending the remaining $32,000 for 2013, Palmer said the board would need to think about it. He said the town needs to see more details from the lawyer or the county before any further action would likely be authorized.

“We took action at the last meeting, creating the environmental protection fund,” Palmer said. “As far as request for additional funding from the 2013 budget, we’d have to talk to our budget director and see where we’re at. But ... we don’t have a breakdown of hours worked or any kind of detail in terms of what he did that would lead us to pay for it.”

Still, environmentalist groups like Residents for Responsible Government pounded home their point during the public comment section of Monday’s meeting, reiterating the point they feel is most important. The timing of the expansion’s proceedings, as hearings are likely to begin next year, gives this board an important position in the future fight of the company they’re trying to stop.

Pushing for funding this year, not just relying on the money promised in a budget not even approved, RRG said the town shouldn’t be breaking agreements for any reason, especially pertaining to this specific case.

“This is a once-in-40-years chance to end toxic waste dumping in the town of Lewiston at a facility so close to our schools,” April Fidelli, president of RRG, said. “Because these hearings are expected to start soon, this is the worst possible time to start changing the county partnerships and (withhold) payment for any reason.”