Niagara Gazette

December 11, 2013

After meeting, county lawmaker says Abraham will continue CWM expansion fight

By Timothy Chipp
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — LOCKPORT — For those looking to keep Chemical Waste Management from expanding its operations in the Town of Porter, Tuesday’s Niagara County Legislature administrative committee meeting was an important step in the process.

Though the smaller group of legislators didn’t pass any sort of legislation along to the general forum, there appeared to be a lot of positive talk following a 45-minute executive session between the group and its hired legal counsel, Allegany-based Gary Abraham.

“We had a good meeting,” Legislator Clyde Burmaster said. “There are some improvements that can be made on the resolution. But we will put the money in. We’ll pursue this as soon as we can put the proper wording together. There’s been a solid relationship between us and I’m sure we will continue seamlessly.”

Abraham, a man hired by the county in 2005 to battle the CWM expansion plan, said until recently, he was off the case dating back to last March, when county attorney Claude Joerg informed him there was no money left to pay for his services. Then, in November, the Lewiston Town Board voted to send $50,000 — in two installments — to the county to fund Abraham and his team of both scientific and legal experts assisting his case.

He said Lewiston’s $50,000 for 2013, half of his agreed-upon financial requirement to spearhead the fight, would keep his team on the case through the early part of 2014, though the town board has already committed another $50,000 for next year’s expenditures.

Lewiston’s involvement in this fight has always been a mystery, even to those who’ve participated from the beginning of the legal battle to keep CWM from building a second landfill west of its current one.

Councilman Alfonso Bax said the county and the town never actually came together and talked about what was needed to take the fight to CWM, assuming it ever needed to be done.

With a ruling by the state Department of Environmental Conservation possibly set to acknowledge CWM’s application for expansion complete — and set off a chain reaction of meetings, hearings and comment sessions before a ruling is made one way or another — coming as early as this month, Bax said it was important there was finally some sort of dialogue between the two entities, considering expansion talk started in 2003.

“This is the first time I believe in the history of this engagement that the county and the town have come together to say, ‘How are we going to finish this?’ Thankfully, we’ve been able to get to this point without any hiccups, without any delays, without any impacts to the endgame,” said Bax, who attended the executive session along with acting Supervisor Gary Catlin. “Now that we’re here, the fact that we’re willing to come together is certainly a tell-tale sign we’re willing to finish it.”

As for Abraham, he said the county body tabling the resolution, which would determine how much and who would fund the lawyer’s work, is quite a step in the right direction. He said when he was called to present to the county at the meeting, he didn’t know what to expect. He thought it was going to be a decision on whether to fully commit to the fight.

It turns out he was right, though it’ll have to be slow steps forward.

“They tabled this in order to improve the resolution and what will come out of this is a stronger resolution,” he said. “We had a conversation in executive session that convinced me that that’s the case. And we’re going to have financial stability, which is what we need to go forward.”

Not all of the meeting attendees were excited by the news, though. Mark Mariani, a heavy equipment operator at CWM for the past 32 years, said he’s outraged tax dollars he’s paying are going toward fighting his employer.

He was adamant Tuesday that CWM is not a threat to the community, adding he used to own a house one mile from the facility before a house fire forced him from his residence. He said he’d still be living there today if not for the fire.

But what upset him the most was the comments from legislators who were condemning the company without ever stepping on company property to see how it all works. He said those comments need to stop until those people take the time and visit to see how the company operates.  

“I’ve been there for 32 years,” he said. “I’ve been there every day and there’s people making comments, they’re trying to shut us down and they’ve never even stepped foot on our facility. So if you’re going to make a judgment on our facility, I think you should at least have the courtesy to come into our facility and see what we do.”

Mug Burmaster, Clyde (should be in system) Clyde Burmaster

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