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Mounting opposition prompts Town of Niagara to reverse approval of proposed asphalt plant

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The Niagara Town Board is giving opponents of a proposed asphalt plant another opportunity to end the construction plan.

The project was approved by the Town Board in July, with Supervisor Lee Wallace saying the board believed the project didn’t have to go to the Niagara County Planning Board. As news circulated and the size of the project became clear, however, opposition mounted, including from the City of Niagara Falls and Niagara University.

The plant would be located on Whitmer Road, near the Falls city line and NU, and is being proposed by AL Asphalt, the same company that wanted it located in Hamburg, where opposition killed the project.

Niagara now wants to start from scratch, with advice from lawyer Michael Risman.

"All the approvals are being revoked and that any or all of the other approval actions that we took of all sorts would be vacated, cancelled, revoked, rescinded so as to be no questions of what we are trying to do here," Riseman said. "So we’re trying to get back to square one. It’s my understanding that the purchaser might not have a viable current contract to buy the property."

At a special meeting of the Town Board Wednesday evening, officials announced the actual move to start over will be at the April 20 regular meeting. A vote is scheduled, this time following the mandated procedures for county approval.

Supervisor Lee Wallace listed what will happen after a county Planning Board approval.

"At which point in time, we will then send it to our Planning Board, as Mike said, and then from our Planning Board to us. Town of Lewiston, City of Niagara Falls and other people who are interested can send us correspondence, letters, what have you that would indicate their concerns or support of or what have you with regards to this project," Wallace said.

Credit Niagara Residents Against the Asphalt Plant
Those opposing the plant in Niagara are using the same tactics that killed the project in Hamburg.

The basic legal issue is that the Town Board was supposed to refer the plan to the county Planning Board, but didn’t. What blew it into a major issue was the state Department of Environmental Conservation looking at air emissions from a plant producing up to 150,000 tons of hot asphalt a year.

Niagara University student Ellen Rajnisz blasted the environmental impact of the plant proposal Wednesday.

"The production of asphalt is known to produce carcinogens such as formaldehyde, arsenic, benzene and toluene as byproducts, which are then disseminated throughout the adjacent ecology," Rajnisz said. "The people in the community who would be most impacted deserve protection from airborne toxins and the long-term adverse health risk. The scope of possible disaster on the horizon stretches further than just the destruction of the surrounding ecosystem."

Perhaps the most vocal opponent of the project is from Holland in Erie County, who claims the meetings aren’t right because they are on Zoom and seniors can’t use Zoom. He also posted the home addresses and phone numbers of board members on the Chat of the meeting and asked people to call them.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.