Controversy swirls over attorney to fight CWM expansion - The Buffalo News

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Controversy swirls over attorney to fight CWM expansion

LOCKPORT – The attorney retained for the past eight years by Niagara County to oppose the expansion of a hazardous waste landfill said Thursday he’s not sure whether the county still supports that mission.

“Some members of the Legislature have questioned what I’m doing,” Gary A. Abraham said. “It’s not clear whether they oppose it or they simply are unaware of what I’m doing.”

Asked Thursday if the County Legislature intends to change its stated position against CWM Chemical Services’ expansion, Majority Leader Richard E. Updegrove said, “There’s no plan that I’m aware of.”

The Legislature could have voted Tuesday to extend its agreement with Abraham and to continue to share the cost with the Town of Lewiston. But instead, after a long closed-door session of the Legislature’s Republican majority, the matter was sent to committee for further study.

Abraham, who lives in Allegany, was asked to attend the Nov. 12 Administration Committee meeting.

“We would expect him to discuss his continued litigation plan, including what expert witnesses would be needed,” said Updegrove, R-Lockport.

Meanwhile, environmentalists disclosed that they will go door-to-door this weekend in Lewiston and Porter to gather petition signatures in favor of the county continuing to fund Abraham’s work.

The group Residents for Responsible Government will discuss the issue at a news conference today in front of the Palace Theatre in downtown Lockport.

Updegrove said the lawmakers want to hear Abraham’s estimate of costs going forward and his assessment of the likelihood of success in defeating CWM’s request to expand the size of its landfill in Porter.

The county and Lewiston have an arrangement in which each alternates paying Abraham $50,000 to fund his efforts.

The county had the last turn, paying $50,000 between April 2012 and April of this year, and expended an additional $18,000 after that, which County Attorney Claude A. Joerg said he thinks Lewiston should cover.

Abraham confirmed Joerg’s figures, but said numbers on a copy of the agreement shown to The Buffalo News “don’t ring a bell.”

The document, signed by Joerg and Abraham, caps his legal fees at $100,000 a year and estimates the cost of expert witnesses at $60,000. The county’s approval is needed for the hiring of any expert who would cost more than $15,000, according to a handwritten amendment.

Abraham said he has a website that contains all his work on the issue, including a successful effort to get the Department of Environmental Conservation to declare that there is no need for more hazardous waste disposal in New York State.

“The Legislature has invested several hundred thousand dollars in this litigation. I think it’s $400,000. At this point, we want to know what the plan is,” Updegrove said.

Abraham said the lack of funding suspends his work, but Legislature Vice Chairman Clyde L. Burmaster, R-Ransomville, said the county’s funding delay creates no danger, because Abraham can be paid by Lewiston, which has inserted its next $50,000 in its proposed 2014 budget.

However, Abraham said that money hasn’t been ratified yet by the Town Board.

He said the state siting board that will decide on CWM’s application definitely won’t meet before the Legislature’s planned vote Nov. 19, because Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo hasn’t appointed it yet.

Abraham said the siting board process will be protracted.

“It will be a battle of the experts,” he said. “We have hydrogeologists, radiation specialists, radiation waste specialists and a landfill engineer. They [CWM] have many more resources than we do.”


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