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Anti-pollution reimbursement assured -- again

Sometime soon, Amherst should start receiving as much as $6 million in federal reimbursements for anti-pollution equipment installed at the sewage treatment plant more than 15 years ago, two lawyers assured town officials Friday.

Lawyers Joseph M. Zorc and Judith L. Chase, based in Washington, D.C., said they have good information that federal officials are on the verge of deciding in Amherst's favor on the reimbursements, perhaps by this summer.

But if the assurances seemed a bit hollow, it may be because Amherst officials have heard similar claims -- with the reimbursements ranging up to $14 million -- since 1992.

To date, the town has paid the lawyers $1 million in fees and reaped federal reimbursements of about $2.2 million. "When do we say enough is enough?" Council Member Shelly Schratz asked Zorc and Chase.

The lawyers, who are husband and wife, attended the special Town Board meeting to explain that the "unusual delay" in the case was because federal officials failed for more than a year to name a hearing officer for the claim.

At a similar meeting of the board in October 2001, they blamed a delay on the Sept. 11 attack on the World Trade Center, which disrupted Environmental Protection Agency offices.

At one point Friday, Zorc told board members that he learned EPA officials are eager to wrap up the reimbursement claim.

"Right -- you said that two years ago," Schratz responded.

Under the town's contract with the couple, Amherst pays each lawyer $250 an hour for work on the claims, up to a maximum of $75,000 per year. Zorc and Chase are also entitled to 15 percent of funds repaid to Amherst.

Since hiring the two in 1992, officials have complained about their fees. And Zorc and Chase have repeatedly refused to cut their rates, while assuring town officials that Amherst is in line to receive federal money -- soon.

Supervisor Satish B. Mohan renewed the plea for lower fees, saying he needed the relief to make the expenses more palatable for Amherst taxpayers.

"The answer is no," said Zorc, when asked if he would reduce his fees.

e-mail: tdolan@buffnews.com

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