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CORPS PLANS TO SHELVE FLOOD-CONTROL JOB

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plans to terminate a flood-control project on Cazenovia Creek in West Seneca because neither the state nor the town has come up with the $537,000 non-federal share of the $2.1 million project.

The announcement Wednesday came as the corps disclosed that federal flood-control projects saved Western New York homeowners, farmers and businesses $7.6 million in potential damage during the past year.

The corps advised the state Department of Environmental Conservation that it must have a decision on whether to proceed by Dec. 31 or the project will be scrapped. Two other projects, one in the Lehn Spring area of Amherst along Ellicott Creek and a second on Silver Creek near Perry, also face termination.

"To be frank, I see no chance for the money," said Assemblyman Vincent Graber, D-West Seneca. "I can add two and two, and the state hasn't got the money, nor does West Seneca have the assets to pay the local share. I will ask DEC to recommend that the corps postpone this action in light of the state's current fiscal problems."

At issue is a change in the federal ground rules during the Reagan administration that shifted more of the costs to state and local governments. State officials said the formula was changed so the federal share was reduced to 75 percent from 90 percent.

"The corps has no choice, they have their rules," said Richard Konsella of the DEC's flood protection section. "But to terminate a project doesn't mean it's terminal. If the resources become available and the Legislature passes the necessary laws, we can ask them to take the plans off the shelf, dust them off and start again."

Three straight mild winters have lessened the threat from flooding, but over the years raging waters during spring snow melts have caused at least one death and millions of dollars in damage to homes and a plaza in the Union Road-Seneca Street area of West Seneca.

Those same mild conditions cut potential flood damage sharply throughout the region, reducing damage estimates well below those of the past few years.

"There wasn't much snow pack in the upper reaches of the creek and thus there was little spring runoff that usually raises creek levels to flood stage," said John Derbyshire, spokesman for the corps' Buffalo District.

Thus at five potential trouble spots there was no flood threat, according to corps officials. These include Ellicott Creek in Amherst, a perennial trouble spot before construction of a multimillion-dollar flood-control project; along Cayuga Creek in Cheektowaga and Lancaster, and on Smokes Creek in Lackawanna.

The $23 million Ellicott Creek project -- the most recently finished corps flood-control work -- was built to protect portions of northern Amherst. That was the site of millions of dollars in damage caused on an almost yearly basis following construction of the University at Buffalo North Campus and an explosion of residential and commercial development that followed in the lowlands along the creek.

During pre-control years, before there was much development, storms in 1960 caused $6.6 million in damage and another in 1985 left $5 million in damage.

The projects paid off last year along the Genesee River, where the corps said the Mount Morris Dam prevented flood damage totaling $7.4 million, and at Wellsville, where the savings totaled $61,000, according to corps figures.

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