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James Neiss/staff photographer WORKING FOR THE RAILROAD: Construction work continues on the rail bridge over Main Street near the location of the new train station, seen in the background.

A major project in the works for almost two decades could be in jeopardy because of a misunderstanding of the project's funding in city hall.

The Falls City Council voted down a resolution to amend a contract between the city and its engineering consultant on the Niagara Falls Intermodal Transportation Center project, Wendel Duchscherer, at Monday's meeting.

Mayor Paul Dyster submitted the resolution, which would have paid the consultants $268,750 on top of the $3.5 million that they have been paid for their work on the project. The original contract was approved in 2005.

The council majority — Council Chairman Sam Fruscione and council members Robert Anderson, Jr. and Glenn Choolokian — voted no to the resolution while council members Charles Walker and Kristen Grandinetti voted yes.

Choolokian compared the train station project to the Public Safety Complex project on Main Street, which the city funded through bonding and is still repaying to the tune of $5 million a year, before casting his vote.

"Looking at this resolution, to me it looks like this train station is turning into another courthouse project with overruns and consultants and for that I vote no," Choolokian said.

But the public safety building — the result of an unfunded mandate from the state — was paid for by the city as where the train station project is being funded by reimbursable federal and state grants which will pay for approximately 90 percent of costs related to the project.

Choolokian did not respond to calls from the Gazette seeking comment on Tuesday.

Dyster thinks the council members who voted no to the contract amendment aren't aware of the source of the funds for the additional payment to the consultant. The council has already voted to commit the funds for the project, he added.

The mayor did not have an opportunity to meet with members of the council on Tuesday.

"We are going to explain this to council and we hope to clear up where the funds are coming from," Dyster said.

If the council does not allow for the contract amendment it could be a huge loss of future state and federal funding and would render the massive investments that have already been made in the project a waste, Dyster said.

"There are hundreds of jobs at stake and tens of millions of dollars of federal funding," Dyster said.

In addition to the federal money that the city has received for first phases of construction the project the city was awarded $16.5 million in Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery II funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation to complete the final phase of the project.

Dyster said that the project provides an opportunity to keep local construction companies busy.

"Times are tough and this is a chance to put people to work," Dyster said.

Tom DeSantis, the city's senior planner in the economic development office, said that he too believes that the council's defeat of the resolution is the result of a misunderstanding of the source of the funds.

"It's not additional money," DeSantis said. "It's money that has already been obligated."

DeSantis said that to stop the project now would not only cost the city future funding from the state and federal governments and job creation but would make the city responsible for repayment of all the money already invested in the project and would open the city up to lawsuits from federal agencies, the state and contractors.

"This is not just a project that is approved," DeSantis said. "It's already funded and under construction."

DeSantis is confident that further communication with the council will convince the members to change their vote, he said.

"I suspect that there needs to be some clarification made that would cause the council to change their vote," he said.

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