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STATE REASSURES RESIDENTS WHO FEAR SALE OF ISLAND IN ERIE CANAL TO DEVELOPERS

Developers learned early from the state which properties along the state's canal system might be offered for sale for housing subdivisions or leased for commercial development.

The Boy Scouts were the ones caught unprepared.

Nine Mile Island -- used for decades as a campground for Boy and Girl Scouts -- was among the parcels that state officials pitched to developers.

Thruway Authority officials briefed developers Nov. 25 on the parcels that might be sold or leased as part of the state's effort to rejuvenate areas along the canal.

Months later, homeowners near the canal and volunteers at the Nine Mile Island youth camp learned the island might be sold.

"We're always the last people to know," said Dorothy Mallow, who lives at 2809 Tonawanda Creek Road, across the street from the island. "The developers knew about it before anybody. Why weren't we told first?"

At the developers' meeting, state officials passed out fact sheets about each parcel.

"We did have a meeting with seven or eight developers at (local) Thruway headquarters," said Brian D. Rusk, assistant public relations officer for the Thruway Authority. "We showed maybe a dozen different areas to them."

Local real estate brokers told the Thruway which developers might be interested in the land, Rusk said.

Amherst developer Roy Jordan said he learned at that meeting how he might be able to buy the 30-acre island, which straddles the border of Erie and Niagara counties, just north of Tonawanda Creek Road.

Jordan has sent a letter to the state saying he's interested in buying the land.

Jordan said he wants to build five or six houses on half the island and would be willing to let campers remain on the other part.

Like her neighbors, Mrs. Mallow first learned Nine Mile Island might could be sold when The Buffalo News reported Jordan's interest in the land.

"The state should have come out and asked the people who live next to the canal -- not to developers first -- about what we want on our front yards," Mrs. Mallow said after a public meeting Wednesday with Thruway officials in the North Amherst Fire Hall.

"This whole thing leaves a bad taste in my mouth," said Jim Schaab of 2845 Hopkins Road. "I know we might only be on Stage Two of 100 stages in this process, but we shouldn't have gotten past the first stage until both towns were informed about what was going on."

The State Canal Corp., a Thruway Authority subsidiary, owns the land. Most of the parcels on the list for possible development are in Niagara County: three in the City of North Tonawanda, one each in the Town and City of Lockport and two in Pendleton.

A top Canal Corp. official sought to reassure North Amherst residents that no action would be taken without informing them.

"Trust me, we are not going to do anything out here without involving the community in the discussion," said Robert A. Brooks, director of development for the Canal Corp. "We're not in the business of jamming anything down anybody's throat."

Cynthia Munk, Thruway Authority spokeswoman, described November's meeting with developers as "a preliminary marketing technique to go out and to see what the interest is."

"We wanted to put feelers out," she said. "It doesn't mean we're selling it to them."

Canal Corp. officials also talked at Rotary Club meetings in Amherst, Clarence and Buffalo last year about developing parcels along the canal system, she said.

At Wednesday's public meeting, Amherst Council Member William L. Kindel asked Brooks to give the Towns of Amherst and Pendleton 90 days to put together a plan to preserve Nine Mile Island.

Brooks said the towns could have the time.

The state only has started locating surplus parcels, and deciding whether to sell or lease will take time, probably more than the 90 days, Brooks said. The state may decide not to sell Nine Mile Island, he said.

If the state does decide to sell it, the state would consider a proposal from the towns first, he said.

"It's not a rush job on any of these parcels," Ms. Munk said. "We'll make sure all interested parties have a chance to respond. It's very early on in this game."

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