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After numerous delays caused by union problems, vandalism at the work site, the removal of illegal aliens and questions about workers' wages, demolition of the city's old water treatment plant is expected to begin within a week.

Kevin A. Koenig of O'Brien-Kreitzberg & Associates, project engineer, said the work would start late this week or early next week with a partially underground multimillion-gallon reservoir.

After some delays, Sansla Inc., a New Jersey company, completed its phase of asbestos removal July 18.

Asbestos had to be removed before demolition could begin.

In all, five major and some minor buildings -- including the two treatment plants, fire house, two pump houses, a generator building, guard house and carpenter's shack -- as well as the reservoir will be demolished.

All of the buildings will be buried in their foundations.

Once demolition is completed, the whole site, located at Buffalo Avenue and 56th Street, will be turned over to Occidental Chemical Corp., as part of a federal court agreement on the cleanup of the company's S-Area dump site.

Contamination had infiltrated the site of the water plant, and Occidental agreed to contribute $64.9 million toward construction of a new municipal water works rather than clean up and monitor the old plant site.

The new Michael C. O'Laughlin Municipal Water Plant, dedicated in May, went into operation several months ago.

Koenig said the start of demolition on the above-ground structures has not been scheduled yet.

Work is to be completed by Oct. 20.

Integrated Waste Special Services of Buffalo is demolishing the plant under a $580,971 contract with Niagara Falls.

Integrated Waste is removing asbestos from additional materials discovered during Sansla's phase of the work.

The City Council has approved paying Integrated Waste an additional $27,550 to remove the asbestos.

Integrated Waste submitted a lower bid than Sansla on the additional work, according to City Engineer Kevin P. O'Brien.

Awarding the work to Integrated Waste will avoid potential delays from coordinating the two contracts, he said.

Integrated Waste was to have started demolition in April.

But Sansla encountered numerous delays in removing the asbestos.

Although Sansla's portion of the work has been completed, the city is holding back payment of $85,250, or 25 percent of the total project cost, under orders from the state Labor Department, O'Brien said.

O'Brien said the department is investigating complaints from workers that some paychecks have been bouncing.

The complaints are the latest in a string of incidents and allegations involving the New Jersey company, which started work here in April.

The city stopped the work quickly after local workers complained that Sansla was not complying with a contract provision requiring that at least half the workers it hired be residents of Niagara Falls.

The company eventually complied with the provision by hiring local workers.

But complaints soon surfaced that the company was not paying wages in a timely manner.

A New Jersey bank was returning payroll checks unpaid, according to the complaints.

At one time, the city was withholding $112,000 in payments.

Also in April, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service removed three undocumented aliens from the work site.

The site was picketed by Laborers Local Union 91 over Sansla's use of non-union labor.

Sheriff's investigators also are looking into any possible connection between an apparent bomb threat against workers at the site and two explosive devices that injured a worker in his Town of Niagara home.

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