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CITY OKS DEAL TO OPEN BENNETT BEACH IN 1997

Bennett Beach, closed to the public for the past two years, would reopen next summer as part of a city-county consolidation deal approved Tuesday by the Common Council.

The agreement, endorsed by Mayor Masiello and County Executive Gorski, would transfer ownership of the natural-sand beach to the county for use as a public park and beach.

For the first time, city and county officials seem to agree on who should operate the beach and how the land should be transferred to the county.

If approved by the county, the sales agreement would end six years of squabbling over the beach and mark an important step forward in city-county consolidation efforts.

The beach, considered one of the nicest swimming spots in the region, is owned by the city but is located on Lake Erie in the Town of Evans.

"It's been a long haul," said Council Member at Large Barbra Kavanaugh, sponsor of the beach transfer. "I'm looking forward to bringing my kids there."

Since 1990, the city and county have been at odds over the beach and the result has been several summers when it was closed to the public.

Richard Tobe, the county's commissioner of environment and planning, thinks the two sides are close to reaching agreement on the beach.

"I'm confident things will work -- with one exception," said Tobe.

The one obstacle is a survey of the beach that shows a Village of Angola building encroaching on the site. Tobe said the survey problem may delay county action but is not serious enough to kill the deal.

The beach agreement also has the backing of Masiello, who at one time indicated he might veto the deal, and several county legislators.

"We examined it and we feel comfortable with it," said Majority Leader Albert DeBenedetti, D-Buffalo.

For months, the city and county went back and forth on what to do with the beach, located 30 miles south of the city.

Opponents of a takeover contend the beach has value and the city should be compensated for giving it to the county. Supporters say the beach is a regional attraction that is best managed by the county.

Under the agreement, the county will waive all taxes and fees owed by the city, including those imposed by the Town of Evans.

The deal, unlike previous proposals, prevents the county from selling the beach to a third party without city approval. It also ensures that ownership of the beach will return to the city if the county ever stops operating it as a public beach.

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