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SOME IN AMHERST URGE MAKING A MOLEHILL OUT OF 'MOUNTAIN' INTENDED FOR SLEDDING

Some Amherst officials want to haul away a pile of dirt just groomed into a sledding hill for the town.

The mound in Margaret Louise Park on Hopkins Road never officially has opened as a sledding hill, but already an Amherst man has sued the town, claiming he was injured while sledding there.

Earlier this month, the town paid a contractor about $8,000 to grade the mound and reduce the slope. The contractor scaled down the hill by 10 feet, making it about 20 feet high.

The work has made the hill safe for sledders, said William J. Coughlin III, a senior engineer assistant for the town.

Other town officials, nonetheless, want the mound removed, and estimates for that work range from $30,000 to $60,000.

A safety panel of town department heads decided the sledding hill is too dangerous, Supervisor Susan J. Grelick reported.

"It's unsafe," she said. "I have to support the Safety Committee's recommendation."

Workers piled the dirt in the park last year, while installing a sanitary sewer along Hopkins Road, and town officials planned a sledding hill for children. Town employees did not work on the hill last year, and the town never officially opened it for sledding. Still, children flocked to the hill last winter.

This week, Amherst's insurance consultant advised the town to put up signs forbidding sledding. Ms. Grelick said signs and a snow fence had been erected last winter, but they were torn down and ignored.

The hill also is about half the length of a football field from Hopkins Road.

"We're afraid some little kid will slide in there and get killed," said Charles W. Moses, the town's insurance consultant.

He said the mound poses a liability risk for the town, noting an ambulance was sent to the hill twice last winter after sledding accidents. Moses said he is aware of seven incidents, but so far only one person has sued the town.

The suit, filed last week in State Supreme Court, seeks unspecified damages for injuries blamed on the hill's large ruts and bumps.

Council Member Peggy Santillo said parents have asked why the hill slopes toward the street.

"They're concerned about the hill sending kids into Hopkins Road," she said.

Coughlin said the road is too far away for a sled coming down the hill to reach, but the mound faces Hopkins Road for a reason: If somebody is hurt, a passing motorist might spot the accident and get help.

"If the sledders went down the other side, somebody could get hurt and be there for a long time if nobody was around. Motorists wouldn't be able to see it," he said.

Council Member Bill L. Kindel said he would fight efforts to close and remove the hill.

"It's a great place for a sled hill," Kindel said. "I can't believe they want to spend $50,000 to remove dirt that was put there for a good reason. That sled hill should be there for thousands of kids. It's in a safe place, far enough from the road. We shouldn't ruin it for the kids because of overblown concerns about liability."

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