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Grand Island residents voice numerous concerns about Amazon at town hall meeting

Nick Lippa

The Grand Island Town Board spoke with local residents Monday night about the proposed 3.8 million-square-foot Amazon warehouse, also known as Project Olive. They were met by a majority of speakers and protestors who opposed the project and are asking for multiple public hearings before any final decisions are made.

About 20 Grand Island residents used their three minutes at Monday night’s town hall meeting to discuss their fears of Amazon bringing a more-than 300-million dollar warehouse to their island.

Some of the main talking points included traffic, environment and the distrust of Amazon as a business. 

Several speakers referenced the estimated 500 trucks that would leave the proposed facility every day. Resident Steve Schnepf said he is suspicious of that number

“Warehouse plans apparently call for over 200 parking spots for tractor trailers. I find it hard to believe that a warehouse open 24/7 would send its trucks out on only two and a runs per day. We know these facilities can send out an awful lot more than that,” Schnepf said. “Our citizens group cited a recent count trucks leaving an Amazon warehouse in Los Angeles that came out to about 1100 trucks per hour. If you were to take that facility and simply drop it here, you'd be looking at a 40% increase in traffic over the Grand Island bridges every single day. Now anyone who lives on or commutes over Grand Island knows it does not take much to cause literally miles of backups leading to the bridges.” 

Tom, a Grand Island resident, was notably frustrated a traffic study was done outside of the summer months when tourism is typically up. 

“Anyone who commutes regularly knows that virtually every day getting on and off the island during the summer is a bumper to bumper experience. Ever been behind two semis one in each lane on the bridge? Not a pretty sight. This claim by the Olive group of driving off hours is not enforceable or predictable. It is in fact, a farce,” Tom said. “There's no way to stop traffic or whatever time these workers or trucks want to cross on and off the island. How about getting off the island virtually every morning when the traffic is backed up to the traffic circle or halfway down the 190 to White Haven or maybe all the way to White Haven?” 

Transparency and trust has been a major concern. Amazon developer Trammell Crow only recently revealed the name of the prospective warehouse tenant and didn’t make its interest in the site public until this past February. 

According to the Buffalo News, Trammell Crow’s representatives said they have shared extensive information in publicly available filings.

Coalition for Responsible Economic Development for Grand Island (CRED4GI) spokesperson Cathy Rayhill protested before the town hall Monday night. She said the group is not an anti-Amazon coalition, but wants to make sure the community is educated on what is happening. 

“We have around 18% or one out of every five residents here is over the age of 65,” Rayhill said. “And they have talked to us that they feel very closed off from the information and debates about this project.”

Rayhill said they’ve gotten 1800 signatures voicing opposition to the project already.

The proposed distribution center would be one of the largest in the world and has supporters like Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz pointing to potential major economic benefits

"We've worked with them to come up with a pilot agreement that we believe benefits the greater community by bringing in tens of millions of dollars of tax revenue that we might not otherwise have received and would create at least 1,000 jobs with a starting salary of $15 an hour, which is greater than the living wage for a single person in Erie County," Poloncarz said last week.

Trammell Crow said the facility would need more than 300 construction workers to build it and would generate $51 million in property tax revenue over its first 15 years. 

Maureen Phillips, co-founder of CRED4GI, said there’s so much focus on the jobs it will bring, but she doesn’t believe they will last. 

“The warehouse is already designed to be roboticized in about 15 years anyway, let's not talk about the jobs. Let's talk about the company,” said Phillips.

After telling the board she believes Erie County Executive Poloncarz has put them in a position to take the blame should the proposed facility not be built, Phillips asked the board if they want Amazon as a business neighbor.

“Amazon has a record of crushing small businesses. And if you want to learn about that you only need to look at last week's testimony by Jeff Bezos before Congress under antitrust violations. The company does not deal honestly. It’s predatory. It has a method for establishing itself in towns that does exactly what it's done here in our town-- to show up on the sly,” Phillips said. “I'd like to ask you to take this idea back to Poloncarz and tell him to incentivize Bethlehem Steel, which is already zoned industrial and put it there where there are so many people who need the jobs that Amazon would offer. This is a residential agricultural community, an island with rickety bridges. Let's be serious.”

The question of why not build it elsewhere was also asked by resident Fred Renard.

“If they want to bring the businesses to Western New York, why wouldn't you put it in all these abandoned buildings downtown in Niagara Falls or keep it in Erie County and go down to Buffalo. Go in to Lackawanna to all these places that are already industrialized,” he said. “Why are we putting this next to Buckhorn State Park? How is that gonna impact that ecosystem, all of those birds, all of the wildlife? This is absolutely insane.”

Of the speakers, there was one resident who spoke in support of Amazon coming to the island, Jim Sniadecki.

“I just feel that we're missing out on an opportunity of a lifetime here and by letting people steamroll you with their opinions and not facts is just not the way to go,” Sniadecki said.

After all the speakers were heard, the board announced a public hearing will be held August 13 at 7 p.m.

Those who wish to attend in person will be allowed to speak to the board. Once done, they will be asked to go outside to maintain social distancing guidelines, where speakers will broadcast the rest of the meeting.

While the board didn’t commit to public hearings past the 13th like protestors wanted, Councilman Michael Madigan said the option is still on the table.

“We’re not limited on the number of public hearings we can have for this particular topic. We can have another one if we need to,” Madigan said.

Councilmember Tom Digati at the end of the night encouraged residents to continue asking the board questions if they needed clarity.

“I'm not looking for facts that fit the narrative. I'm looking for facts that will lead us to make a good decision. And the way I view this is… we're not looking for… a planning board, or any other advisory board in this town to make the decision for us,” Digati said. “We're looking for the insight from residents and from those boards to give us some information as to things we need to look at, at this project. Things we can work with the developer, so that when it comes time to vote, we are voting on the project we think is best and that's not to say it's one that assuredly gets approved, but it's the best one we can possibly get before us.”

Digati said the process is not something they can just flat out say no to.

“I don't think any one of the five of us is going to say that we're dealing with this perfectly. We are doing the best we can. And we are putting everything we've got into this,” Digati said.     

You can watch the full meeting here:


Nick Lippa leads our Arts & Culture Coverage, and is also the lead reporter for the station's Mental Health Initiative, profiling the struggles and triumphs of those who battle mental health issues and the related stigma that can come from it.
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