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Stalled street reconstruction upsets Falls residents Lewiston Road work half done in dispute1

For the residents of Lewiston Road, it's the project that never ends.

"Going around the block for two years has been a disaster," said Gina Gigliotti-Chmaj, whose sidewalks resembled a gravel pit late last week. "It's the worst."

A road reconstruction project that was supposed to be completed in March -- and remains only half done -- has plagued this stretch of Victorian homes with torn-up road and unfinished paving.

The contractor, Man O' Trees of West Seneca, is locked in a dispute with city officials over project costs and the removal of radioactive material. While construction crews haven't worked on the road in months, residents deal with the project every day.

Like many residents, Gigliotti-Chmaj is frustrated that the delayed project could turn into a legal battle between the city and contractor at the expense of her normally walkable neighborhood.

"It's beyond me how they could actually leave a road like this," she said.

Residents who live along Lewiston Road between James and Van Rensselaer avenues, where much of the road remains rocky and unfinished, packed City Council Chambers on May 14 to hear Dave Pfeiffer, the owner of Man O' Trees, address the Council.

They were disappointed when Pfeiffer wasn't at the meeting, due to a miscommunication. But they plan to attend Tuesday's 4 p.m. Council meeting at which Pfeiffer says he will address the lawmakers.

"I want an explanation," said Council Chairman Sam Fruscione. "I want him to justify why it's such big problem and why he can't finish this job. We've had other streets with a similar problem, and it never took this [long] to get it done."

Problems first arose with the project last year when Pfeiffer said his crews found six times the amount of radioactive material beneath the road, which they were hired, in part, to remove.

The city and state Department of Environmental Conservation officials said they expected to find the material, which they said was not a threat to public safety. Pfeiffer, who disagreed, also said the city did not pay him fully for the work his company performed.

Prior to that, the project was delayed because of the need for radiological testing on the street, a license that the contractor needed to maintain to handle the material and negotiations with CSX Corp.

Pfeiffer now says he has completed $8 million worth of work and the job is 47 percent complete. His original contract for the entire project was for nearly $8 million, and Pfeiffer wants a contract that reflects current labor costs and other expenses. His previous contract expired in March.

"We want our contact adjusted, [and we want one] that is reasonable," he said last week. "It was not our fault."

The bonding company for the project is assessing the situation, city lawyers said, declining to comment further. That company eventually could decide to choose another contractor for the job, or side with Pfeiffer.

The threat of a lawsuit loomed over last week's negotiations between the city and Pfeiffer's lawyer, John P. Bartolomei.

"We're hoping someone comes to their senses here, because if they don't, they're going to end up in court with us," Pfeiffer said.

The impasse has residents and city lawmakers frustrated about the lack of progress during a mild winter and warm spring.

"It's one of the nicest neighborhoods in the city, if not the nicest, and it's under siege," Fruscione said. "The property values are depreciating because of the inability to do the job. In Niagara Falls, we need to keep as many good neighborhoods as we can."

The residents of that neighborhood are growing impatient.

"This is a major roadway. They should be working day and night," said Marianne Civiletto. "It should have been done by now."

Mayor Paul A. Dyster said he understands why the Council wants to hear Pfeiffer's concerns but noted that city leaders already have had meetings with Pfeiffer about those issues. "We were trying to get from him a detailed realistic schedule [for] this summer, and it's my understanding that we didn't get that," Dyster said.

Pfeiffer said he did provide the city a construction schedule.

"The only thing we're interested in is getting the street finished, whether it's Mr. Pfeiffer's company or another company," Dyster said.

He said the city has a "relatively short window" to determine how the project will be completed if it hopes to finish the job this year.

Civiletto had simple advice for those charged with seeing the project to its completion:

"Get the road done."