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Laidlaw Inc.'s local operations would not be affected by the company filing for bankruptcy protection in the United States and Canada, a local Laidlaw official said.

The bus company filed a recovery plan in U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of New York with the Chapter 11 filing. Burlington, Ont.-based Laidlaw said the holding companies also will be filing for protection from creditors in Toronto.

Laidlaw is North America's biggest public and school bus operator. It has contracts with more than 30 school districts in the greater Western New York area, said Gene Kowalczewski, vice president of operations for the Northeast region.

The company employs more than 1,000 people in the area, he said. Its local operations are based in Cheektowaga.

Laidlaw plans to restructure its balance sheet by converting some of its $3.4 billion in debt to new shares for distribution to creditors. The company's current shareholders will recover nothing, said Stephen Cooper, Laidlaw's chief restructuring officer, in a prepared statement.

Trading of Laidlaw's stock was halted on the Toronto Stock Exchange Wednesday in the wake of the published report.

"(Laidlaw stock) was halted to clarify media reports about the financial situation of the company," said Steve Kee, spokesman for the Toronto Stock Exchange.

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