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Lafarge sues Town of Lockport over tax assessment

LOCKPORT – Lafarge North America, which says its Lockport quarry may run out of stone in about three years unless it is able to expand, has filed suit against the Town of Lockport, seeking a reduction of more than two-thirds in its property assessment.

The lawsuit, filed in State Supreme Court, asks for the assessment on the company’s land, which is divided into 26 parcels, to be reduced from $3.6 million to slightly over $1 million.

Bruce S. Zeftel, the Buffalo attorney who filed the lawsuit for Lafarge, declined comment on how the numbers were arrived at. He provided the name of the company’s tax representative, who did not return calls seeking comment.

Town Assessor Jill Lederhouse said she couldn’t comment on the details of the suit because of the existence of the litigation, but she said it wasn’t a surprise since the company had filed a grievance with the town’s Board of Assessment Review over her valuation of the Hinman Road quarry.

Lederhouse said the suit had to be filed within 30 days of the completion of the town’s assessment roll, which went into effect July 1.

“The tax assessment went up considerably,” said Perry A. Galdenzi, Lafarge project manager. He said it’s “standard procedure” to file a challenge in such circumstances.

The portion of Lafarge’s quarry that is located in the City of Lockport is divided into 13 parcels, with a total assessment of $2.08 million. Lafarge also filed a grievance over those numbers, according to the city Assessor’s Office, but it did not file a lawsuit.

Corporation Counsel John J. Ottaviano said it’s too late for Lafarge to do so, since the city assessment roll was completed June 1.

The main use for the quarry’s “aggregate,” consisting primarily of limestone-like Lockport dolomite, is as an ingredient in asphalt used in road paving.

Lafarge has an application pending before the state Department of Environmental Conservation for an expansion in the town. The company in recent years bought up most of the real estate on the south side of Hinman Road, with the notion of moving its operations there. The current pit is located on the north side of the road.

Galdenzi has estimated that it might take two or three years to obtain DEC approval of the expansion, so in the meantime, the company is seeking to excavate most of a 15-acre parcel within the city limits for mining.

The site would include about 9.9 acres of mining space and is estimated to yield about 1.3 million tons of aggregate, which equals about a year’s worth of normal production.

The company is seeking a special-use permit for that temporary expansion, but the matter is controversial because the parcel adjoins the city’s 110-year-old water supply line.

Lafarge presented the city with an analysis by Greystone Engineering of Saratoga Springs, which said the vibrations from blasting in the expanded quarry won’t endanger the 36-inch waterline, which is buried six feet beneath the surface. The report said the wall of the new quarry would be 300 feet from the waterline.

The city is expected to hire CRA, another engineering firm, to perform its own analysis. Mayor Anne E. McCaffrey has said the Common Council won’t vote until the report is received.

However, the city has yet to receive a quote for the study. Ottaviano said CRA is waiting for a price response from excavation companies.

The city wants Lafarge to commit to pay for any repairs needed to the line as a result of its blasting, and to pay for the cost of backup water if the city has to switch to Niagara County water during such repairs. The company is expected to place a seismograph over the pipe, which would warn of any trouble.