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Homeowners and business proprietors in Clarence Hollow were voting today to decide the fate of a $6.2 million project that, if approved, would see the area's aging septic systems replaced with new sewer lines.

The project has the backing of the state Department of Environmental Conservation and County Health Department due to decades-old pollution problems in Ransom Creek caused by the area's inadequate, leaking septic systems.

According to Gerard A. Palumbo, a DEC environmental engineer, Ransom Creek in the Clarence Hollow area has "very, very gross levels of pollution," including high levels of dissolved oxygen, ammonia, and fecal bacterial matter.

The proposed project has been greeted with mixed reaction in Clarence Hollow.

Business proprietors in the area support the project, in part because aging septic systems can be costly to maintain, said Robert Schofield, president of the Clarence Hollow Merchants' Association.

Even worse, Schofield said, is the smell from Ransom Creek that permeates the area in the summer months -- and which isn't exactly a lure for customers and tourists.

But some area homeowners oppose the project, saying the potential cost to them -- about $500 a year -- is too much.

Other residents in the town -- including some who do not own property in the immediate area -- have expressed concern that a positive vote on the sewers will be an implicit vote of approval for a proposal by two local developers to build 1,000 new high-end homes in Clarence.

Dominic Piestrak and Anthony Cimato have pitched to town officials a deal to install a multimillion-dollar, 4.5-mile sewer trunk line -- needed by the town to connect the Clarence Hollow line with a feeder line to Amherst -- in exchange for the rights to develop two 500-home subdivisions in the town.

Town officials have said that the two issues are not directly related.

To finance the sewer project, the town is looking for $5 million in state bond money, with $1.2 million to be borrowed by the town, according to Town Accountant Daniel Tirone.

The project, if approved, would result in an estimated annual cost for a "typical" home or business in the Hollow -- valued at $115,000 -- or $500 per year for the next 20 years, Tirone said.

Although there would be no tap fee levied by the town in addition to the annual cost, town officials said there would be a one-time connection fee -- approximately $1,500 to $2,500 -- that property owners would incur for the installation of individual connector lines between their homes or businesses and the main sewer line.

Because the estimated cost is based on water usage, assessed valuation, and street frontage, the amount individual homes or business would ultimately pay on an annual basis might be more or less than the $500 figure, Tirone said.

Voting on the proposed sewer project was scheduled from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the clubhouse of Clarence Town Park at 10405 Main St. Property owners, aged 18 and older, owning parcels of property in the proposed sewer district are eligible to vote. No absentee ballots will be permitted.

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