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Motorists who travel Main Street in the University District aren't the only ones with road construction headaches these days.

Consider the problem of how to deal with hundreds of tons of "contaminated" soil.

Buffalo officials, who are administering the road rebuilding project for the state, are looking for a place to store the soil for a couple of months while it airs out, so to speak.

Picture a nice suburban lot piled to a height of 20 feet. That's how much soil we're talking about, says Amherst Building Commissioner Thomas C. Ketchum.

And while, technically speaking, the material is part of the right of way of a state road -- Route 5 -- it's also located within the boundaries of Amherst. The soil makes up the sub base of the north half of Main Street between Kenmore and Bailey avenues, officials say.

But Ketchum and other Amherst officials -- who point out that the state owns the soil -- are hoping to steamroller any plan to store it in the town.

"Why are we in the business of taking that?" Amherst Council Member Daniel J. Ward asked Tuesday. "Why are we taking this at all?

Ketchum took one look at a proposed storage site at the south end of the Amherst Museum's property on New Road and ruled it was improperly zoned. So much for that idea.

Town Engineer Paul Bowers said he was only trying to accommodate Buffalo officials when he agreed to try to find a storage site in Amherst. According to Bowers, the soil is not dangerous, but needs to air out for a couple of months to allow some volatile petroleum contaminants to escape into the air.

Buffalo Public Works Commissioner Joseph Giambra said the city is waiting for Amherst to decide what to do with the problem.

Then he heard that Amherst Town Attorney E. Thomas Jones wants the city to indemnify Amherst from any harm in connection with the soils.

"Why would I do that? It's not our soil," Giambra said.

Nevertheless, Jones said his job is to protect Amherst, and the soil is the city's to deal with because it administers the Main Street reconstruction. He also said the Amherst Town Board must approve any storage plan.

But Giambra, who arrived back from vacation on Tuesday, said there may be other ways to solve the matter.

"We've been working with the state Department of Transportation. Under certain rules we can possibly haul it directly to a landfill. If we can do that, we'll just go ahead, and we won't have to expose the Amherst people to their soil," he said.

If landfilling is not possible, Giambra said, the road crews will leave the soil in place and merely resurface the Amherst side of Main Street.

"It's not the best solution. It will probably wind up causing ponding water on the Amherst side," he said. "But we may have to go ahead and do that."


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