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RESIDENTS FEAR REPEAT OF JANUARY FLOOD

With spring rains ahead, many residents of the Cayuga Village Mobile Home Park fear a flood similar to the one Jan. 8, when 800 residents were evacuated.

The residents, who say nothing has been done to rectify drainage problems, recently voiced their concerns to town officials.

Robert Miller, president of the Cayuga Village Tenants Rights Group, said everyone is passing the buck.

"When the flood first came, the Town Board promised to do everything humanly possible," Miller said. "But the question is: 'What are you doing?' There have been several meetings since then. The City of Niagara Falls blames the town and the town blames the city."

Miller said owners and managers of the park have not attended any of the meetings.

"Elderly people here panic whenever it rains," he said. "People shouldn't have to live like this."

Cayuga Village Park manager Robert Labus objected to being cast in the role of "the evil landlord."

"No one has asked us to attend their meetings," Labus said. "And if individuals would call me, I would spend as much time as they want talking to each of them, but I won't respond to the yelling and screaming of a mob mentality."

Labus said Cayuga Village Park Inc. had engineers out the day after the January flooding, checking out Cayuga Creek and sewer systems.

"We will look at what the problem is, what happened, what caused it and what we can do to prevent this in the future," Labus said. "Everything is just about wrapped up and we should have a report very soon."

But Labus believes the Jan. 8 flooding was an act of God -- the result of extended rainfall.

"Let's not take this out of context. This was not an isolated incident," Labus said. "Some people realized this and quickly got to work cleaning up their yards. There are others who found this flood a convenient excuse for already sloppy yards and unpaid rent."

Supervisor Steven C. Richards said he, too, resents "unfair criticism."

"The town does not own the property, and does not own the sewer and water lines in the park. We did call the state of emergency, evacuated residents and I myself spent (many hours) overseeing things that first day. We also arranged for Federal Emergency Management Aid," Richards said.

"At this time I agree with the Army Corps of Engineers that the creek didn't spill its banks, but rather the sewer lines backed up into the creek. But we are pushing hard to get this resolved and (the owners) of Cayuga Village are doing their part," Richards added. "Everyone has been very cooperative. Government moves slowly, but efficiently. I do understand the frustration of the residents."

Richards said a closed meeting will be scheduled in April to air the results of the Cayuga Village engineering study. The meeting will feature representatives selected from all parties involved in the problem.

William Langman, a senior citizen and a resident of Elderberry Place, which along with D Street was the hardest-hit area of Cayuga Village, attributes the problem to a combination of the creek and the sewer system.

"Cayuga Creek is right across the street from me. When I can see it from my window, it is about 7 feet deep (during midwinter and spring thaws and rains). In the summer it is only about a foot deep," he said.

Langman said the Niagara County Planning Commission got some grant money in 1996 that will be used to clean Cayuga Creek to the city line, meaning it stops at the mobile home park.

"There're some big trees that have fallen into the creek in Niagara Falls and, when they are removed I think we will see a difference, but I'd like to see them go further and pursue grant money to continue the cleanup in the Town of Niagara," Langman said.

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