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AMHERST WANTS LAW FIRM TO TRIM FEE ON EPA CLAIMS

The pot of gold at the end of the seven-year-long rainbow holds $5 million or more for Amherst, but the Town Board doesn't want lawyers getting 15 percent of it.

Consequently, the board Monday ordered the town attorney and town engineer to try to persuade a Washington, D.C., law firm to reduce its contingency fee for an anticipated settlement of claims against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in connection with a $140 million town water pollution control project in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

The 87.5 percent federally and state funded project involved construction of Amherst's $120 million sewage treatment plant on Tonawanda Creek and many miles of major sanitary sewer interceptor lines.

Amherst contends it is owed between $8.2 million and $9.7 million in costs eligible for reimbursement under the old federal Clean Waters program. It has been pursuing its claims since 1990.

The law firm representing Amherst in the appeals process, Zorc & Chase of Washington, is confident the town will be awarded at least $5 million, based on earlier settlements with other communities and the firm's excellent track record in the complex appeals process, Town Engineer Paul M. Bowers told the board Monday.

But the board balked at the law firm's proposal that it receive 15 percent of the final settlement on top of legal fees that could go as high as $400,000 by the time the appeals process is over in two or three years.

At those rates, the law firm would earn $1.1 million off a $5 million settlement, Council Member William L. Kindel noted.

The first five years of the appeals process has already cost the town $107,000 in legal fees to Zorc & Chase, and the proposal now before the board calls for future services at rates totaling $1,285 an hour, plus 15 percent of any settlement, officials said.

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