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COUNTY OFFER ON N. FOREST BRANDED 'BLACKMAIL'

Two Amherst Town Board members said Thursday that county's proposal for turning over North Forest Road to the town "smacks of political blackmail."

"The county shouldn't just dump its responsibility for that road on the town," said Council Member James P. Hayes, a Republican.

Republican Jane S. Woodward sided with Hayes and urged the town to "emphatically reject their offer."

Democratic Council Members Daniel Ward and Peggy Santillo, however, said the idea is worth exploring.

Democratic Supervisor Susan J. Grelick said, "If it were a town road, we could consider restricting truck traffic, which would help preserve the residential nature of the North Forest neighborhood."

Earlier this week, county officials proposed a width of 35 feet between Sheridan Drive and Maple Road. The pavement would be wider, with turning lanes, at three spots: the Chapel and the town's separate engineering and highway facilities on North Forest. County officials said they would be willing to reconsider work in these areas.

Most residents want two 12-foot lanes and 2-foot shoulders on each side, or 28 feet of width. The road now is 22 to 24 feet wide with no paved shoulders.

County Legislator Barry Weinstein said Erie County officials are not interested in a swap, turning over North Forest and taking over a town road in exchange.

Weinstein, who talked with Public Works Commissioner John Loffredo twice Thursday, described the county's offer:

If the town assumes ownership, the county would repave -- but not widen -- the one-mile stretch of North Forest at a cost of $200,000.

The county would also put up the $400,000 local share to fix the Ellicott Creek bridge on the road, with the rest of the money coming from the federal government.

In the future, the county would pay $500,000 toward the cost of improving North Forest from Millersport Highway to Dodge Road.

The town would take over 4.4 miles of the road from Sheridan Drive to Dodge Road and have to assume liability risks and the estimated $15,000 annual maintenance cost.

County road planners do not appear willing to budge from plans for a 35-feet-wide North Forest if it remains a county road, Weinstein said.

"The Town Board has to decide what's best for the town," Weinstein said.

Hayes and Woodward said the town should continue pressing for a road reconstruction plan that accommodates the wishes of residents.

"I think we're at a critical stage, and I am not happy to see the approach the supervisor and Mrs. Santillo are moving toward," Hayes said.

"They're caving in to the county by setting up the possibility of a donation of the road to the town. That's not acceptable."

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