LOCKPORT – Niagara County legislators were blasted by angry constituents late Tuesday night over their refusal to hold a committee of the whole session to discuss continuing to pay an environmental attorney to fight expansion plans at the CWM Chemical Services landfill.
After waiting nearly three hours to speak, several Lewiston-area residents pounded the legislators over their inaction on rehiring attorney Gary A. Abraham.
Legislature Chairman William L. Ross, C-Wheatfield, said Abraham is again being asked to appear at an Administration Committee meeting at 6 p.m. Dec. 10 in the County Courthouse.
Majority Leader Richard E. Updegrove, R-Lockport, who blocked Abraham’s appearance at Tuesday’s meeting, spent most of the public comment period out of the room.
He missed speakers such as Youngstown Village Trustee Beverly Van Dusen, who said, “You are our elected officials. When are you going to stop beating around the bush on this issue? It is beginning to look very suspicious with all these postponements.”
Updegrove returned in time to hear a former colleague, former Legislator Lee Simonson of Lewiston, declare, “Stop torturing us. Please take a stand. Be the leaders you were elected to be. If you want hazardous waste to be dumped here for the next 40 years, say so.”
“Making us the northern capital of pollution is not what you were elected to do,” said Shirley Nicholas of Lockport.
“Actions speak louder than words,” said Charles Lamb of Lewiston. “If you delay funding [Abraham], it seems to me you’re in favor of the expansion.”
Mary Beth Coleman of Lewiston directly asked Updegrove why Abraham was uninvited from Tuesday’s meeting. When Updegrove returned, Legislator Jason A. Zona, D-Niagara Falls, demanded that he answer Coleman’s question.
“I understand the frustration,” Updegrove said. He denied “assertions that somehow the Legislature is promoting continued storage or shipment of hazardous waste in Niagara County.”
Updegrove said he thought a committee meeting, which was the original forum the Republican majority envisioned for Abraham, was more suitable for the discussion.
“We are going to ask some very basic questions that members of the Legislature don’t have answers to, including myself,” he said. “We want to have the time and opportunity to make sure that when Mr. Abraham walks away, no one has any further questions.”
Minority Leader Dennis F. Virtuoso, D-Niagara Falls, suggested that legislators submit questions to Abraham in advance “so he isn’t blindsided.” Ross said legislators should do so by Friday.
Legislature Vice Chairman Clyde L. Burmaster, R-Ransomville, said, “I don’t think five people should be making a decision of this magnitude in a committee meeting. … I think that is wrong. Everybody in here should be able to stand up and have a say and have their votes recorded.”
“I expect every legislator to be at that committee meeting,” Updegrove said. “The assertion that five people are deciding the fate of the Legislature or the county, I would disagree with.”
“All 15 may be there, but only five can vote,” Burmaster replied.
Updegrove said any legislator can introduce a resolution and can use the rules of the Legislature to keep it from dying in committee.
Another reason for not having Abraham on Tuesday, said Updegrove, was that some Lewiston Town Board members couldn’t attend. He said sharing the cost of expert witnesses needs to be addressed with Lewiston.
That town board, which has been splitting the cost of retaining Abraham with the county since 2005, decided Monday to ante up another $50,000 to keep him on the job.
The $50,000 allocations are supposed to alternate between the town and the county; the town’s appropriation is expected to keep Abraham working for the next few months, although nearly $19,000 of the town’s latest payment was directed to costs Abraham ran up that exceeded the county’s last $50,000 expenditure.
“I know that time is of the essence. Nobody in the Legislature has said it’s not,” Updegrove said.