Despite last-minute legal help, a Buffalo resident lost his court fight Thursday to stop a Buffalo Sewer Authority project on his street.
Charley Tarr, who has no legal background, had expected to argue his case himself against the authority’s lawyers.
But well-known criminal defense attorney Mark J. Mahoney showed up to assist Tarr, and Mahoney argued against the authority’s motion to dismiss Tarr’s suit.
Tarr asked a State Supreme Court justice to stop the authority’s work on Bird Avenue and make the authority complete a full environmental review. The project includes the construction of a large vault to hold raw sewage during rainstorms so the sewage does not flow untreated into the Niagara River.
After nearly an hour of oral arguments, Justice Jeremiah J. Moriarty III ruled in favor of the Sewer Authority, saying that the statute of limitations to bring an action expired in late 2012.
Moriarty called Tarr’s motion “defective” and dismissed it.
The Sewer Authority is constructing, at a cost of $2 million, a large vault that will be the width of Bird Avenue and stretch a third of the block between Parkdale Avenue and Hoyt Street. The flow, though it will not be stopped completely, will be controlled by gates, according to the authority.
Tarr said the vault projects on Bird and Lang avenues were mentioned in the authority’s environmental review of a much larger plan. But they were not sufficiently designed when the authority declared the entire project would not have a significant environmental impact.
Moriarty ruled that the environmental review contained the two projects.
Authority attorney Charles C. Martorana argued that Tarr could not prove he suffered any harm from the project. Also, Tarr was aware of the project, because he attended community meetings in 2012.
“He has submitted many conjectures of how bad the project will be,” Martorana said.
Mahoney contended that the details of the Bird Avenue project were not released at the time the environmental review was completed in 2012 and that Tarr would have no way to know about their potential environmental effects and object to them.
“It was all a future plan,” Mahoney said.
Mahoney added that the authority’s $380 million Long Term Control Plan, which the authority determined would not have a negative effect on the environment, contemplated future environmental reviews for projects that had not been finalized. “Simply mentioning these streets in the Long Term Control Plan is not enough,” he said. “They did not do the environmental review.”
Tarr has said the brick sewer line on his street, constructed in the late 1800s, could fail if it is filled with raw sewage, potentially leading to odors and basement backups.
The authority has said the age of the sewer does not indicate its effectiveness.
The project is part of a 20-year plan the authority is pursuing under a legal order from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The city has not been in compliance with the Clean Water Act, with 1.75 billion gallons of untreated sewage released into area creeks and rivers every year when the combined sewer system is overwhelmed by rain.