by Timothy Chipp
Niagara Gazette — Some Lewiston residents feel it's inappropriate for the Lewiston Town Board to accept a donation from a waste management company it's members are publicly fighting.
That was the message following Monday's Lewiston board work session, where speakers were permitted to address the town's recent acceptance of $5,000 from CWM Chemical Services for its ice skating rink at Academy Park.
"I think the town should return the money," concerned resident Karen Allen said. "This is going to look bad, like they're supporting the town looking for an expansion."
Much of the public concern over the $5,000 centers on the possible expansion of the disposal company's facility, including a new landfill. Opponents - including the town board - have argued the company doesn't provide a public good, a necessary aspect of any talks to expand the site.
The company will lose the ability to dispose of waste in Lewiston in 2014 if it cannot show the expanded site is in the public interest.
Members of the citizen group Residents for Responsible Government feel the town accepting donations like this could prompt the company to argue CWM does serve an interest to the public.
"The Town cannot assure residents that its acceptance of discretionary monies from CWM will not be used against the town in upcoming regulatory proceedings," RRG representatives said in a joint, written statement. "Therefore, we believe the town board has an obligation to return the CWM funds and to remove and refute all associated advertisements for CWM."
April Fideli, president of RRG, also raised concerns expressed in a letter written by RRG board member Tim Henderson, a life-long Lewiston resident who was unable to attend the Monday meeting.
In the letter, a copy of which was obtained by the Niagara Gazette, Henderson asks the town and Supervisor Steve Reiter to consider the fact that CWM, despite many photo opportunities and check presentations, still deals with chemicals and other destructive items which can, and he argues, do, cause problems in the community.
"CWM has a very effective (public relations) machine which is perpetually engaged in trying to put the hazardous waste industry in a good light," Henderson wrote. "Whether with annual photo (opportunities) taken with the town and school boards when they present their state-mandated tax receipt checks or posing with the Catholic Bishop of (Western New York), public perception and acceptance is something they need and are eager to purchase. Steve, there is a reason it is called hazardous waste."
Reiter, meanwhile, said he needs to think about the requests made Monday and wouldn't commit to either returning the money or keeping it.
He said his job is to support the town any way it can be.
"If I can keep the costs down, I'm going to live with it," he said.
When asked about the impact $5,000 has on the operation of the ice rink, he said losing the money wouldn't adversely affect the wildly popular winter activity.
"It just makes it easier (to operate)," he said.
Lori Caso, spokeswoman for CWM, said she doesn't believe the $5,000 donation to the town is a conflict of interest given the town's opposition to the possible expansion.
She said the company received a request to donate and did.
"We were asked for the money," she said. "We received the solicitation and we happily responded. Personally, my 11-year-old son uses the rink just about every day. I think it's a wonderful thing they're doing for the community."