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COURTHOUSE PLANNING IS FOR THE BIRDS

The planners of the new Erie County Courthouse have faced threats of sanctions, difficulties in finding a site and now -- a couple of birds.

These are no ordinary birds. They are peregrine falcons.

They nest high up on the Statler Towers, but their territory includes a large chunk of the city, including the Pearl Street lot where the county plans to build a seven- to 10-story courthouse.

County Public Works Commissioner John C. Loffredo said Friday that he learned at the start of the required "environmental impact" study for the construction project that he must pay heed to the birds.

"We're trying to determine what impact the building has on the environment," Loffredo said. "There are a number of issues: how the building will look, how it will fit in with the surroundings, how it will impact the environment. We get input from various interested agencies."

One of those agencies is the state Department of Environmental Conservation, and it gave him a message -- "We think you should take a look at the falcons."

Twin concerns of the DEC are that construction might disrupt falcon nesting -- there were three baby chicks this year -- and that the adult birds might attack construction workers.

So when construction begins, workers will be alerted to hazards from the sky, said Michael Krasner of the county's Environment and Planning Department.

"The falcons might perceive them as invading their territory," said Krasner. "Construction workers should be alert that the birds might swoop at them."

Another concern is how falcons will react to the long-necked piece of equipment that is named after another bird -- the crane.

"If it exceeded the height of the parking ramp next door, the falcons might be there perching on the crane," Krasner said. "The DEC was concerned that the birds might pick up grease from the mechanism."

A flag atop the crane would inhibit the birds, said Krasner, who occasionally sees the falcons.

"They live at the Statler, but they hang out at all the high buildings," he said. "I saw them on the County Hall clock tower."

While the falcons may think they own downtown, the city still has the deed to the lot at Pearl and Church streets; it has agreed to sell it to the county for $490,000. Loffredo said the transfer is no longer a problem.

A lingering question is the number of stories that will be needed for the new courthouse. There the key factor is the growth in the Family Court caseload. Original plans for a five-story building are out.

"We need seven stories right now," Loffredo said. "Should we gamble by building 10?"

If the building is limited to seven floors, it will be engineered to support three additional stories that could be built later, he said.

"If you want 10, you would have a couple vacant floors," he said. "There is some concern about that."

Loffredo, who said nobody wants to unnerve the falcons, muses about things he considers now that were not factors in the old days.

"When I first started as a young engineer, you could do anything," he said, "And we did. Times have changed."

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