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Assemblyman Richard A. Smith, who has been Santa Claus to Southtowns transportation since he went to Albany, this year helped upgrade Hamburg Airport using a $75,000 grant from the Assembly's Multi-Modal Transportation Program.

The money paid to repave the runway, do some landscaping and build a new fuel farm, though work on the fuel tanks and delivery system still has to be completed.

"There were some cost overruns, about $15,000, and we picked that up," said Larry Walsh, who owns the airport with his brother, Rod.

Over the years, "I got $400,000 for the (Erie County Industrial Development Agency) to help the Buffalo Southern Railway, $400,000 to help stem erosion on Route 5 near Hoak's Restaurant, and another $400,000 to Lackawanna to help develop the new Metroport at the former Bethlehem Steel docks," said Smith.

The former Hamburg highway superintendent also obtained a $200,000 grant to be split among the Southtowns for a variety of drainage projects.

"It helps that my career was in transportation," Smith said. "And it helps that I am in the majority party."

The multimodal transportation fund will expire next year unless it is reauthorized.

Smith said he saw great merit in helping the airstrip.

"They tell me a lot of local businesses like to fly people here in private planes and do not want to go through the Buffalo Niagara International Airport," the legislator said. "They come here for Bills games."

Walsh agreed: "People tell us they come here for the fair, to go to shows in the Agri-Center, go to the track. And Bills games, if the weather cooperates.

"A recent state Department of Transportation survey of private pilots asked what their favorite New York destinations were, and Hamburg came up seventh," Walsh said. "There are hundreds of small airports in this state, so that's pretty good."

The airport has a regular clientele of between 25 and 30 small aircraft hangared there and can offer tie-downs for many more. The half-mile-long runway is lighted and can accommodate twin-engine aircraft like the six-to-eight-passenger Beech Baron, the airport owner said.

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