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July trial set for families' suit against town over Nike base

A suit filed against the Town of Hamburg in 1999 over alleged contamination at the former Nike base is scheduled to go to trial in July.

Two families who lived on Lake View Road adjacent to the former missile base say their health and property values suffered as a result of contamination left from the base and are seeking millions of dollars in damages in State Supreme Court.

A similar suit against the Army is pending in federal court.

The Army previously rejected a $4.3 million claim, and now the families are in court. The Martin family is seeking $2.5 million; the Hellerts, $1.8 million.

The federal government denies the allegations.

The Town Board this week approved hiring Ecology and Environment to provide assistance in defending the town in state court. The firm will be paid by insurance carriers.

According to court papers, Donald and Joanne Hellert and their son and Robert and Carrie Martin and their three daughters suffered unspecified injuries and damage as the result of toxic substances that migrated onto their properties.

They were forced to sell the homes at a loss, according to their attorney, Richard J. Lippes.

In their suits against the town, the Hellerts seek $1.7 million and the Martins about $2.7 million. They say they live in fear of developing cancer and other diseases and are in need of continued medical monitoring.

Deborah J. Chadsey, the attorney defending the town, said Thursday that she could not comment beyond saying, "We believe the suit is without basis."

In court papers, she said that any alleged damage or injuries were caused by someone other than the town.

An Army Corps of Engineers study in 2000 found small amounts of heavy metals and rocket fuel at the former base and gasoline-type compounds at the homes.

Officials representing the town said at the time that the levels were consistent with state background and did not pose a health risk.

But Paul J. Hirsch, an environmental attorney hired by the residents, took issue with that assessment.

The 300-acre parcel includes the former 57-acre Nike base, which housed air defense missiles during the Cold War. The Army occupied the property from 1955 to 1968, when it was turned over to the town.

The town operated a landfill for demolition debris on part of it from 1970 to 1984. Part of it is used by the Highway and Buildings & Grounds departments and part for recreation.

e-mail: ternst@buffnews.com

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