Complaints about Amherst's cost to lease land along the Erie Canal have renewed talk about trying to buy the property instead.
Amherst Supervisor Susan J. Grelick and Council Member Jane S. Woodward, who voted against leasing the canal property when the idea was first proposed, want the rest of the Town Board to reconsider leasing 20 acres along the Erie Canal in north Amherst now that federal funding may be available to help the town purchase that land.
To protect the parcel from development, a Town Board majority decided Amherst will pay the State Canal Corp. $20,000 a year -- for two consecutive 20-year leases -- for land on the north side of Tonawanda Creek Road, east of Campbell Boulevard between the North Amherst Fire Company and a set of Niagara Mohawk power lines.
A State Canal Corp. commission approved that lease contract in July. Amherst is expected to take control of the property in the coming weeks.
"We will spend all that money but have nothing to show for it after 40 years," said Mrs. Woodward. "This is a very one-sided deal, and I want no part of it."
But now, Assemblyman James P. Hayes, R-Amherst, is telling town officials Amherst may be eligible for $200,000 -- the property's purchase price -- through the federal Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century.
The town and Canal Corp. still would be bound by the negotiated lease, Hayes explained. But if Amherst was awarded the grant, the town simply could use the funds to buy the parcel outright, said Hayes, who has been talking with Canal Corp. officials.
Furthermore, Hayes said he has secured half the $40,000 Amherst would have to chip in.
"This (lease) is a payment of $800,000 over a 40-year period, or $40,712 per acre, for property that we would not own," Ms. Grelick said. "At the very least, we need to negotiate to own the land at the end of 40 years. I know we can do better."
Council Member William L. Kindel, who spearheaded efforts to lease the land, doesn't mind applying for the grant money or trying to buy the property. He just doesn't want to jeopardize the lease agreement if those other options fall through.
"I don't have any problem with buying the land," Kindel said, "but we have been told consistently by the Canal Corp. that they wouldn't sell."
Canal Corp. officials familiar with the Amherst deal could not be reached to comment Wednesday.
The Canal Corp. has been trying to sell and lease waterfront parcels from North Tonawanda to Albany to rejuvenate the areas along the canal system and attract tourists.
Amherst officials last year agreed they wanted to preserve that 20-acre tract along the canal, which at one point had been suggested for a boating complex with a restaurant and retail before the town stepped in.