By Timothy Chipp
Niagara Gazette — Town of Niagara officials are hoping second time is the charm concerning a $600,000 grant program to help citizens living in the Belden Center area.
New York State's Office of Homes and Community Renewal is once again offering money to municipalities throughout the state in its community development block grant program, money the town was unsuccessful at obtaining last year.
The money would be used to begin installing much-needed storm water sewer drainage — used to handle rain runoff collection during heavy rains — along Rhode Island Avenue between Hyde Park Boulevard and Norman Street. It's a much-less ambitious project than the proposed plan last year, brought on by changes needed to better compete for the money, according to grant writer Nathan Taylor.
"We did an exit interview with the grant agency last year and they told us some of the things they wanted to see change," he told the Niagara Town Board Tuesday during a public hearing on the new application. "The result is a drastic reduction in the scope of the first phase of the project."
In reducing the project's impact on the area, which residents say is in complete disrepair on most roadways in the neighborhood, there's no way the project would allow for storm water drainage work along each of the side streets branching off Rhode Island Avenue.
Instead, Highway Superintendent Robert Herman said, the town would work the project in several phases as money became available to the town after completing the major street, assuming grant approval.
Herman said the project has to start somewhere, and the best place is the largest street in the neighborhood.
"We need a starting point to fix the drainage," he said. "Once we have that starting point and we get this finished, we can fix the road. And we'll go down each side street as the town finds money for the project, however long that'll take."
Those side streets are really suffering right now, according to some of the residents who addressed the board during the public comment session. Jody Parfinski said she temporarily lost control of her vehicle driving down one of the streets because it had broken apart down the middle and created a rut her tire drove over.
The situation is so bad, she said, town plows can't drop on the roads in the winter to remove snow because they pick up more pavement than snow.
Her husband, John Parfinski, said the problem stems from when the roads were first paved, if they even were to begin with. One road in the neighborhood is still dirt, a throwback to how they were designed for horse-and-buggy. And under the road is just as bad, with sewers collapsing and manhole covers coming loose as pavement shifts, he said. It almost cost him serious repairs to his own vehicle and could have hurt a child seriously.
"At this point now where you're going to kill a kid," he said of the problems. "The problem with Belden Center is it's a Band-Aid. We all know it is. There's little money there."
But Herman said relief for at least some of the area's road problems could be mere weeks away. He said he's seen the state of the roads and is in the process of securing a piece of equipment called a "Hot Box." He just needs the county to lend it to him, allowing his crew to more efficiently provide temporary patches to areas in dire need.
Part of his problem has been staff capable of performing road repair. Paving has been kept to a minimum due to a lack of qualified labor, with two to three roads repaved on average each year. Herman made moves to alleviate this issue, sending a crew to paving school to learn how to do it properly. With the changes, Herman said the town could complete 12 jobs by the end of the season.
It's an enormous difference from a year ago, he said.
"I think we're (working hard)," Herman said. "If our staff does't have the skills to do the work, we'd have to either subcontract the work out at cost or wait for another municipality to help us out. And municipalities are always waiting for other help, since we can't do it all on our own and don't have the necessary equipment. But with our crew going through training, we'll be able to work faster."Contact reporter Timothy Chipp at 282-2311, ext. 2251 or follow on Twitter @timchipp.