City officials presented their plan on Monday for helping a group of LaSalle residents recover from a ruptured water main that caused extensive damage to homes in the 56th Street area last month.

Several residents attending an informational meeting at the Vineyard Church on 56th Street expressed concern the proposal would not meet their needs.

And while Mayor Paul Dyster and Community Development Director Bob Antonucci encouraged residents to apply for assistance under the city’s emergency repair program anyway, residents made it clear they still want some answers about what went wrong and an explanation from the Niagara Falls Water Board as to why homeowners are being asked to pay for it.

“The problem has existed for a long period of time and everybody’s been shuffling it under the rug,” said Carl-Mack Litz, a Devlin Avenue resident who echoed statements from several other residents who said they have been dealing with similar water problems in the neighborhood for decades.

The Niagara Falls Water Board — the public authority responsible for the city’s water system — maintains it has no legal responsibility for any damages related to the March 24 break as the damaged water main was “without negligence.” The board is still working to identify the cause of the break which resulted in hundreds of thousands of gallons of water to spill into the area of 56th Street and nearby Devlin, Stephenson, Frontier and Lindbergh avenues. About 50 homes were impacted by the ruptured 20-inch line which runs off the city’s main 42-inch concrete water conduit that travels from the Buffalo Avenue water plant down 56th Street.

Members of the the community group LaSalle Pride organized Monday’s meeting in an effort to provide residents with information on where to get assistance for cleanup costs and repairs. LaSalle Pride member Ken Sherman suggested the residents’ next course of action should be a request to members of the Niagara Falls City Council for a formal inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the break and how the Water Board reacted in the aftermath. Sherman said LaSalle Pride members intend to draft their own resolution to present to the council for its consideration. The council is responsible for appointing two of the Water Board’s five voting members.

“We can ask the city to, in effect, investigate what happened,” Sherman said.

Dyster and Antonucci unveiled the details of an emergency relief program that would allow qualified homeowners living in the affected area to receive federal funds through the city’s Community Development Department. The program does have limitations as applicants must fall within set income guidelines and, in general, funds may only be used to cover emergency situations, including heating, electrical or plumbing problems that pose health or safety hazards. Applicants also must provide evidence to the city that they lack adequate insurance coverage or have been had an insurance claim denied. Antonucci also explained that program funds cannot be used to reimburse homeowners for repairs they’ve already made which was the case for many residents in the audience.

Both Dyster and Antonucci said the city is continuing to look for other sources of funding or programs that may be available to provide additional assistance.

“We’re going to continue looking to see if there are other ways in which the city could be helpful,” Dyster said. “We think it is very important to do this in a timely fashion.”

LaSalle residents have scheduled a follow-up meeting for May 11 at the church at which time they are expected to review notice of claim forms that impacted homeowners are in the process of completing and intend to file with the Water Board.

“I think that the city needs to ask the water board for an explanation,” Sherman said.

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