Rethinking their position  

Signs of community opposition to AL Asphalt's plan to construct a plant in the Town of Niagara are everywhere these days, including front yards in Niagara Falls. (James Neiss / staff photographer) 

The Town of Niagara town board voted in a special session Wednesday night to rescind plans to allow an asphalt plant to be built on Witmer Road, and to send the matter to the Niagara County Planning Board, due to public outcry against the plant.

The board, in a work session to prepare for their April 20 business meeting, had previously also planned a special session Wednesday to vote on creating legislation to regulate small cell phone towers, an item which the board approved.

The board then voted unanimously to rescind its approval of AL Asphalt's proposal to build a hot asphalt plant at 4660 Witmer Road near Niagara University.

The action came in part as a result of vigorous public opposition to the proposed plant due to anticipated health and environmental issues. Nearly 2,500 people signed an online petition denouncing the proposal, on a website created by a group called Niagara Residents Against the Asphalt Plant.

The opposition followed a recent announcement by the state Department of Environmental Conservation that it's seeking public comments on air quality permit applications filed by plant representatives. The company's application notes the plant would produce about 150,000 tons of hot asphalt from April to November and would keep carbon monoxide emission below 100 tons a year and emission of volatile organic compounds below l50 tons a year. The DEC has extended the period for written public comment to May 3.

When the town board approved the plant proposal in July 2020, the members had been counseled that they did not have to send the proposal to the Niagara County Planning Board, despite an inter-municipal agreement between the county and the town to refer projects adjacent to other municipalities, Town Supervisor Lee Wallace said. Wednesday's vote corrected that matter.

Along with concerns expressed by community members and representatives of municipalities surrounding the proposed plant, Niagara University’s president, Rev. James J. Maher, sent a letter to the university community in which he announced a concerted effort to oppose the plant.

“We stand in opposition to this project for our entire community,” Maher said in the letter.

While no public comment was allowed at the special meeting Wednesday —  because comments will be heard at the April 20 meeting — an exception was made for a representative of the NU student body.

The student, Ellen Rajnisz, told the board in part: “It is undeniably a God-given privilege to be living so near to Niagara Falls, a natural wonder of the world and travel destination for millions of domestic and international tourists every year."

She noted students at NU have a responsibility toward the land on which they study and live and added, “It is our duty to stand against anything that would further endanger the biodiversity of the greater Niagara Falls region for generations to come.”

After the vote to rescind town approval of the plant and send the matter to the county planning board, Town Clerk Sylvia Virtuoso noted that until the meeting on April 20, she wanted residents to remember that town officials and staff are doing the best they can to be open and transparent in the process.

“One thing that’s really a problem is when someone calls our office and is verbally abusive to the clerk,” she said. “We will not tolerate any kind of nastiness on the phone.”

Due to Covid concerns, the meeting was conducted via Zoom and open phone lines. For more information about the plant proposal and ways to be heard, visit the town's website: www.townofniagara.com.

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