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Property owners on Sunset Island are passing the hat to hire an environmental lawyer rather than pay off the town's expenses for planning a sewer project for them.

The town is planning a $565,000 sewer to replace septic tanks on the island in Lake Ontario that is separated from the mainland by the east branch of Twelve-Mile Creek.

Also planned is a water project to upgrade a 2-inch main, which does not provide the island any fire protection or year-round service.

Neither project has been undertaken yet, because the town has yet to receive the needed permits from the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Work apparently will not begin until next spring at the soonest.

Because of the town-wide water district, the water project would be paid off by all Wilson taxpayers. But Sunset Island has the only sewer district in the town outside the Village of Wilson.

"We cannot sit back here and be steamrollered by people who don't care what it costs," Edward A. Hoeflich, one of the residents, said last week.

But Wilson Supervisor Marilynn R. Allgeier said that even though the Town Board tabled a $100,000 bond issue last Monday to pay for the legal and engineering costs, an $87,000 bond package will appear on the board's Oct. 19 agenda.

A staff meeting in Town Hall last week determined the exact costs incurred in planning the project, Mrs. Allgeier said. Island property owners will have to pay the amount through a special addition to their property taxes over 10 or 20 years.

The $100,000 bond would have added about $75 to an islander's annual tax bill for 20 years, Mrs. Allgeier said.

"I'm pretty sure we're going to put that on the tax rolls. That money has to be paid back," the supervisor said.

"There's no itemized list of what they're supposed to owe," Hoeflich charged. "Never have the islanders said they didn't want a sewer, but we don't vote. There's only four of us who can vote in the town."

Eighty-one of the 85 parcels on the island are owned by non-Wilson residents who use them primarily as summer homes, Hoeflich explained.

Mrs. Allgeier, who served a long stint as town clerk before being elected supervisor last November, said her search of town records showed the Sunset Island sewer district was created in January 1992, and legal and engineering expenses incurred since then would be reimbursed to the town by the bond issue to be paid off by the islanders.

"They were arguing with us that the district wasn't formed until 1996. I don't know where they got that from," Mrs. Allgeier said. "I've been here a long time, and I know what's what. We've got all the paperwork to back it up."

Kathleen E. Casey, another island property owner, noted the town tried to set up another sewer district in the area in the late 1970s, but it was dissolved.

"That cost the town $100,000, too. The town ate it," said Mrs. Casey, calling the plan to pass the costs onto the islanders "outrageous."

Hoeflich said, "For some reason, they are hell-bent that these 85 homes are going to pay to clean up this area. We'll have a sewer, but it won't clean up this area."

Hoeflich said the state Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation informed him that tests of water at the nearby beach in Wilson-Tuscarora State Park showed no pollution.

Henry W. Brodowski, deputy regional parks director, confirmed that. He said water tests at the beach have "not indicated any problem either from the east branch or the west branch (of Twelve-Mile Creek)."

Town officials previously said that the state sought the sewer project, through the Niagara County Health Department, to protect the beach from pollution.

Brodowski said the state does not oppose a sewer for Sunset Island. "It would be to all of our advantages. . . . Is it an immediate concern of ours? Not really."

He said the water at the beach has been tested for at least two or three years. "To date, we have had no bad readings," Brodowski said.

James J. Devald, the county's director of environmental health, sees it differently. "We've been doing our own testing, and I disagree with that," he said.

He surmised the county is testing at a different location than the state. He said the county's water tests, on the north, or lake side of the island, show bacteria from two septic discharges, each serving about 40 island cottages.

Asked if that could affect the state's beach to the southwest, Devald said, "It has the potential to, depending on the current and the wind."

Hoeflich doesn't buy it. "The water flows (east) from the Niagara River to the St. Lawrence River. It doesn't flow backwards," he said.

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