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The Hickory Woods story makes a travesty of the American dream. Homeowners who acted in good faith and trusted their city government now find themselves victims, trapped in a nightmare brought on by the incompetence and negligence of city officials.

Those South Buffalo homeowners, some of whose families have been stricken with unexplained diseases since moving to the city-sponsored development, deserve justice. There is no way that the Masiello administration can move forward in creating a better city, certainly touting it as a desirable place to live and raise a family, if it doesn't correct the injustice done to so many innocent people - people who simply wanted a home of their own and a safe place to raise their children.

At issue is Hickory Woods, a city-inspired housing development atop old industrial land. Apparently, state health officials warned the city in 1993 about coke waste buried at the site and potential health risks to residents. But City Hall had the homes built anyway, and enticed families with cash incentives.

All that despite warnings and red flags. Despite the reluctance and, finally, the refusal of one builder to get involved in the project because he couldn't get the environmental information needed to confirm the safety of the site. But the reluctance of a private developer had no bearing on the city's rush to build, and the project went ahead. Now, the families who moved to the South Buffalo neighborhood, next to the former LTV steel plant, are trapped in homes they can't sell and are afraid to let their children to play in their own back yards.

The salient question is: Why didn't city officials stop this development when it got clear warnings that the land might not be safe? Although this mess started in a previous administration, it should be noted that the current administration supported the idea of the development.

The administration of Mayor Anthony M. Masiello should have known. When a private developer walked away from the project, that should have signaled something was terribly amiss. There were enough red flags to give a reasonable person pause.

The residents of Hickory Woods have a strong case for relocation, with the city, state or federal government, or all three, picking up the tab. To his credit, Masiello says he's going to fix this problem. The people of Hickory Woods should hold him to his word.

These people did nothing wrong other than trust their elected leaders to act responsibly. They didn't. And now, simple justice demands that these families be relocated at government expense.

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