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MASIELLO, CITY HALL LAWYER DRAW FIRE ON HICKORY WOODS

More than three years ago, Mayor Anthony M. Masiello promised to make the homeowners of Hickory Woods "whole."

Two members of an environmental advisory panel reminded Masiello of that unfulfilled pledge this week and called on him to remove City Hall lawyer Richard E. Stanton as his point man on Hickory Woods. They described Stanton as an obstacle to success.

In a letter to Masiello, University at Buffalo chemistry professor Joseph Gardella and environmental consultant David Hahn Baker criticized the mayor's record on Hickory Woods and blamed much of his failure on Stanton.

"It's the culmination of all my frustrations," Gardella said of the letter. "There's been no progress because Stanton doesn't want progress."

Gardella, an associate dean at UB, has acted as a volunteer technical adviser to residents in the contaminated subdivision for nearly five years. He also has been a very public critic of what he calls the city's piecemeal approach to cleaning up the South Buffalo neighborhood.

Both he and Hahn Baker are members of the Buffalo Environmental Management Commission, a City Hall advisory panel.

"The city and its residents are no further along to a buyout plan or a plan for remediation than we were in 2000," they said in their letter to the mayor. "Despite your promises, your choice for manager . . . has failed to accomplish a single concrete step towards a solution to Hickory Woods."

Hickory Woods, a community of about 60 homes, was built during the late 1980s and 1990s on land bought and developed by City Hall. Since then, it has become clear that city officials either knew, or should have known, about the contaminated soil.

Stanton said the city has accomplished a lot at Hickory Woods, including the cleanup of three residential properties where there were health concerns, and an ongoing cleanup of the 220-acre abandoned steel plant next door.

The result, he said, is a neighborhood that now has a clean bill of health.

"The (state Health Department) has reviewed and evaluated all data presented and found there is no remaining risk to people in the neighborhood," Stanton said.

Stanton countered the allegations against him by contrasting the city's work on Hickory Woods with Gardella's research, which he claims is "replete with errors."

"Our response . . . has been guided with consultation with (state and federal officials) and outside experts," he said.

In the past, Masiello has defended his record at Hickory Woods, including a compensation offer to homeowners last year.

The plan offered residents two types of compensation, one for those who want to leave and one for those who want to stay. Two out of every three homeowners turned down the offer, calling it too risky and too little money.

Residents also want a comprehensive cleanup plan for the neighborhood.

State health officials acknowledge that the South Buffalo neighborhood is contaminated with lead and possible cancer-causing chemicals but contend that the "average" levels are not high enough to pose a serious health risk.

In contrast, a team of experts at UB, including Gardella, criticized the state report as incomplete and challenged the notion that Hickory Woods is a safe place to live.

e-mail: pfairbanks@buffnews.com

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