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Compressor project draws protesters to park event

They came a handful at a time Sunday to Sgt. Mark A. Rademacher Park, also known as Hunters Creek Park, in Wales.

Most came to show support for the park and opposition to a natural gas compressor station being built nearby. Others didn't know of the demonstration and came to hike in the Southern Erie County park.

By mid-afternoon, about 200 signatures had been gathered on a petition in opposition to the construction of the National Fuel Gas Supply Corp. compressor station off Reiter Road.

National Fuel Gas started site work last week, after the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission denied appeals seeking to delay the project.

The company has been working 12-hour days, including on the weekend, preparing an access road and clearing a wooded area for the compressor station, which will move gas north to the Trans-Canada pipeline.

Sunday was billed as a day to support Mark's Park, a nickname for the park that was named after Rademacher, a Wales man and Army Ranger who died in 1983 in the invasion of Grenada.

One of Rademacher's sisters, Jane, walked through the park Sunday on some of the same trails that her brother hiked as a youth.

"While I was back there -- it pulls at my heart strings," she said. "I know he always used to be over there."

She said her family agrees that if he was still living, Mark would be opposed to the compressor station.

Residents are concerned that the compressor station will be noisy and emit toxic fumes. While they have put up a spirited fight, construction has started.

Karen Merkel, director of corporate communications for National Fuel, said an independent noise consultant has said the state-of-the-art compressor will be the quietest station in operation today.

"For an individual who is in the memorial park, they will not see or hear the compressor station," she said.

But residents remain opposed to the station and don't plan to give up.

"This far down the road, what we're trying to do is get awareness out that there is a green technology out there, there is a compromise out there -- switching to electric motors," said Rick Guard, of Wales.

"If it has to be here, electric motors would be the way to go," added Wales Supervisor Ricky Venditti.

Merkel said National Fuel is not considering electric motors.

"We believe that the use of natural gas is the proper way to go," she said. "First and foremost, we are a natural gas company, and natural gas is much more efficient, clean and affordable than electricity."

Residents have gained the support of local, state and federal representatives and at least one congressional candidate. David Bellavia, a candidate for the Republican nomination in the 27th District, criticized his GOP opponent, Chris Collins, Sunday at the park for not supporting Wales residents when they appealed to him while he was Erie County executive.