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About 90 acres of vacant land owned by the Town of Tonawanda just north of the Youngmann Highway could soon be destined for private development.

At a workshop Monday, the Town Board informally agreed to let the town's Economic Development Corp. begin soliciting developers through commercial realtors in hopes of finding a potential buyer for the property.

Councilman Carl J. Calabrese, chairman of the Town Board's Economic Development Committee, said the land might be more profitable to the town in private hands.

"A private developer has more resources to market the land than a small municipal government has," Calabrese said.

And a privately funded project "would move along a lot quicker," he added.

The property, commonly known as the mud flats, is located near the Firetower Industrial Park and the town's wastewater treatment plant.

About 18 acres of the property is at grade level with the Youngmann. The rest is between 9 and 12 feet lower than the highway, Calabrese said. He said it is unlikely the property will turn out to be protected wetlands under federal or state regulations.

"There is at least 40 feet of clay (just beneath the surface)," he said.

Also, he added, the town is well along in its negotiations with Conrail to build a new railroad crossing near the property to provide another access to the property from Military Road.

Conrail has refused to build a crossing because of the increased liability it might assume as a result of motorists crossing its tracks. Calabrese previously suggested that Conrail's liability might be reduced if the railroad crossing was limited to truck traffic.

The property was appraised about a year ago, but its worth cannot be accurately determined until a state administrative law judge decides whether Conrail must build a railroad crossing, Calabrese said. If Conrail isn't required to build one, it could cost the town or a developer between $250,000 and $500,000 to do so.

Calabrese added that the price of the property will also be determined by whether or not a potential developer will be required to put in the infrastructure at his own cost.

If an industrial park like the one at Firetower is developed at the site, it could produce some 1,500 new jobs over the next decade and add about $40 million to the town's tax rolls, Calabrese said.

In another matter, Councilman Raymond E. Sinclair said the town will be pursuing a state grant to build its own compressor pumping station for vehicles that have been converted to run on natural gas.

About a dozen town vehicles have been converted to use natural gas, which is a cheaper, cleaner and more efficient fuel than gasoline. Those vehicles currently must be fueled at the National Fuel compressor pumping station off Military Road near the Thruway.

A fueling station will cost about $100,000, Sinclair said. If the town does build its own, it would not only service town vehicles that have been converted, but those owned by the Kenmore-Town of Tonawanda School District, he said.

The town's natural gas-powered fleet saves the town about 80 cents a gallon in fuel costs and about $15 a month per vehicle in maintenance costs, Sinclair said. He estimated the new pumping station could probably end up paying for itself in about two years.

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