LOCKPORT – Environmental attorney Gary A. Abraham will not appear at tonight’s Niagara County Legislature meeting to discuss fighting an expansion of a hazardous waste landfill.
Legislature Chairman William L. Ross, C-Wheatfield, said Monday the decision to not have Abraham at the meeting was made by Majority Leader Richard E. Updegrove, R-Lockport, whom Ross said is the person who really controls the meeting agenda.
“I wouldn’t disagree with what Chairman Ross said,” Updegrove said. “We decided and agreed as a caucus that it should be done at a committee meeting.”
Meanwhile, the Lewiston Town Board voted unanimously Monday to transfer more than $31,000 from this year’s legal contingency fund, pending receipt of documentation, to fully fund the town’s $50,000 share of Abraham’s fees.
GOP Councilman Ernest C. Palmer, who made the proposal at Monday’s meeting, said Lewiston already had been billed and paid $18,890 on Nov. 4. The remaining $31,010 is to be transferred to the county “for the CWM work” upon receipt of documentation from Niagara County requesting the funds. Legislature Vice Chairman Clyde L. Burmaster, R-Ransomville, who was co-sponsoring with Ross a resolution to renew Abraham’s retainer, was angry about the Allegany attorney being uninvited.
Asked why that happened, Burmaster said, “Anybody who wants to know should contact the new agenda-maker, Mr. Updegrove. I thought that was the chairman’s job.”
Ross said, “The majority leader sets the agenda and he felt very strongly that the original plan should be followed.”
The original plan was to invite Abraham to a meeting of the Legislature’s Administration Committee to discuss plans for opposing CWM Chemical Services’ request for a new hazardous waste cell at its site in Porter.
Abraham told The Buffalo News last week that Burmaster inadvertently told him last week’s committee meeting was on Thursday, not Tuesday. By the time the mistake was cleared up, Abraham had another commitment on Tuesday and couldn’t attend.
Ross then decided to have Abraham address the full Legislature at its regular business meeting, which is tonight. But Updegrove rejected that idea.
Asked if he controls the agenda, Updegrove said, “As majority leader, yes. It was our consensus that it would be more appropriate to have that conversation in a committee meeting, given the amount of disclosure we’re seeking in regard to the litigation. I would expect it would be a pretty comprehensive conversation.”
“It would be far better to have it before all 15 members of the Legislature, because this is an issue that goes far beyond the boundaries of Lewiston and Porter,” Burmaster said. “This gamesmanship is getting to be irritating. People’s lives are at stake.”
Updegrove said the Legislature continues to oppose CWM’s expansion. “The record is clear,” he said. “The Legislature has opposed this under our leadership. We’ve continued to fund this.”
He said legislators especially want a cost estimate for Abraham’s continued work and the siting board proceedings involving CWM, once the state Department of Environmental Conservation gives the go-ahead for such hearings.
“We want to understand the strategy. This is the DEC. The likelihood of success against the DEC is something we need to know,” Updegrove said.
As for spending more money on Abraham, Updegrove asked, “Didn’t Lewiston just pay? Obviously we want to do our due diligence as expeditiously as possible.”
The next Administration Committee meeting is Nov. 26, but the Legislature is reviewing the 2014 budget that night. “I don’t want Mr. Abraham to be squeezed,” Ross said.
After that, the panel meets Dec. 10, but the Legislature’s full meeting the following week will feature budget adoption.
“We’ve got a reorganizational meeting in January with no business discussed. We don’t discuss business until February,” Burmaster said. “We’re kicking the can down the road for somebody’s benefit.”