LEWISTON – About 40 to 50 members of the community, led by the environmental watchdog group Residents for Responsible Government, filled the Town Board meeting Monday night to question whether the town would continue to pay its share of the cost of a lawyer who has been hired to represent Niagara County and the Town of Lewiston in a legal fight to stop the expansion of Chemical Waste Management’s hazardous waste landfill.
None of the residents was allowed to speak because work sessions of the Town Board are not open for public discussions, but the board addressed some of the questions that have been raised in flyers, brochures and emails that have been circulating throughout the town.
Prior to the meeting, there were questions about why Gary Abraham, the special counsel who was hired to represent the Town of Lewiston, Village of Youngstown and Niagara County in the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s hazardous waste siting hearing, was not being paid by the Town of Lewiston. The town was supposed to share expenses with Niagara County, but Town Financial Director Michael A. Johnson said the town didn’t get a bill from Niagara County.
“They are supposed to tell us what the expenses are,” Johnson said, adding the town has received bills from the county only three times in the past five years.
Councilman Ernest C. Palmer said the town supports the fight and has a $100,000 legal contingency fund to pay attorney’s fees. The board agreed to allocate half of that amount to a dedicated Environmental Protection Fund line item in the budget specifically for the attorney’s fees.
“In the past, we have paid significant amounts of money to the county to help fund the legal fight against Waste Management’s application for expansion and, as most of you in here know, this board has consistently opposed expansion of Waste Management,” Palmer said. “I see no problem with continuing to fund the fight.”
Supervisor Steven A. Reiter said town officials have never met with Abraham about the services he provides and would like to meet with him, instead of just handing over a check for $50,000 to Niagara County.
Palmer and Reiter questioned why other towns, adjacent to Lewiston, are not called upon to also pay for part of the legal fight.
“We need to think about a partnership here. This shouldn’t be incumbent upon Town of Lewiston residents to fund this effort,” Palmer said. “Truck traffic traveling to CWM travels not only through Lewiston, but through the Town of Niagara, Wheatfield, Pendleton, Cambria, Wilson – you name it. I’d like to see a partnership with these other towns.”
Reiter agreed, adding, “I do feel our state officials have not gone out of their way to protect us. I also feel our county has done the same thing. They’ve asked us for funding, but other towns should also have to provide a portion. I feel it’s unfair to Lewiston taxpayers who have to pay twice, through their county taxes and again through our town taxes.”
In a prepared statement, resident Amy H. Witryol said, that one of the primary purposes of the state-mandated gross receipt tax CWM pays to Lewiston is to protect the town from the adverse effects of the facility.