Niagara Gazette

October 7, 2013

Community questions bring explanation on Lewiston's lack of funding of CWM expansion fight

By Timothy Chipp
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — With Lewiston Town Board members entering preliminary work on the budget recently, rumors began quickly circulating the town has not been funding its portion of a county-led effort to fight the expansion of Chemical Waste Management through an Albany-based attorney.

Environmentalist residents and members of the watchdog group Residents for Responsible Government, which operates mostly in Lewiston and Porter, circulated flyers during the recent Harvest Festival in the Village of Lewiston, calling for the town to continue the fight against the disposal company and once again begin contributing to the financial .

“CWM wants to expand its operations with a new hazardous waste landfill,” the flyer states. “Niagara County and the Town of Lewiston have pledged to fight this expansion. The lawyer the county has retained has done an excellent job and is very close to winning the case to prevent the expansion. However, the Town of Lewiston has not contributed any funds in the last four years to help the county pay for its legal expenses.”

Though the town has not contributed money to the legal fund since 2009, town finance manager Michael Johnson said it’s for a very specific reason. He said the town simply hasn’t been asked to pay since former Supervisor Fred Newlin left office.

Originally, he said, the agreement between the two municipalities was a verbal one, where the county would spend $50,000 on attorney Gary Abraham and, if needed, would bill the town for up to $50,000 as supplemental.

The first year was 2006, when the county asked for three payments totaling $50,000 to cover the cost. Nothing was reported in 2007, but a total of eight bills were submitted by the county the next year, also totaling $50,000. There was only one $50,000 invoice submitted in 2009, paid the last day of that year.

In case there ever is a new bill submitted by Niagara County for Abraham’s services, Johnson said there is money available to cover the expense. It just isn’t set aside in the 2014 preliminary budget like it was in 2009 under a different supervisor.

“It’s called Attorney Contingency and Litigations,” Johnson said of the line item. “We put $100,000 in it every year. I don’t know if the board would go along with paying any bill, but we always have that line item to use. If we wanted to do something, if we needed to do something with the county, that would be where it would come from.”

But how likely is town investment in the continued fight against the company’s expansion? Supervisor Steve Reiter said the town likely wouldn’t be contributing monies when tax dollars are involved.

Though he’ll be out of his position in January after losing the Republican primary for the supervisor position last month, Reiter said he doesn’t believe it’s fair to residents in Lewiston to pay for the town’s share of the money after their county property tax dollars helped pay the initial portion.

“Why do I have to have residents support this twice,” he said. “I’d say (to the county): Why aren’t our state officials stepping to the plate and supporting this?

“We have until November to make a decision. But I feel uncomfortable taxing Lewiston residents twice just to pay for a lawyer.”

Despite the availability of contingency money, members of RRG are expected to attend the town board’s work session, scheduled for 6 p.m. today at Town Hall, 1375 Ridge Road, Lewiston.

$150K Amount the Town of Lewiston had been billed prior to 2010 to help fund CWM expansion legal challenge

Contact reporter Timothy Chipp at 282-2311, ext. 2251 or follow on Twitter @timchipp.