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Judge refuses to halt Perrysburg land sale to logging firm

A judge has refused to halt a controversial land sale in Perrysburg, saying the court has no authority to void a contract between a logging company and the state.

Trathen Land Co. considers the ruling by acting State Supreme Court Justice Larry M. Himelein a major coup. But the attorney for a group trying to block the sale thinks the state's recent decision to revisit environmental and preservation concerns will ultimately derail the transaction.

Few land deals have fueled as much local debate in recent years as the state's push to sell the 650-acre site of the former J.N. Adam Developmental Center.

While the property is 35 miles from Buffalo, city officials have been embroiled in the dispute. That's because Buffalo maintained reversionary rights to the Cattaraugus County site, which was once home to the city's tuberculosis hospital. About 40 buildings were constructed, most of which still stand. The city later turned the property over to the state.

Last fall, the Common Council reversed an earlier action and voted to give up Buffalo's reversionary rights in return for receiving 90 percent of the sale price, or nearly $334,000.

The action triggered a series of legal duels. A citizens group called Friends of J.N. Adam went to court to try to void the contract, arguing the state failed to address environmental and preservation issues. The logging company filed a lawsuit claiming Buffalo failed to exercise its land rights in a timely fashion.

Thomas S. Trathen, president of the Livingston County-based company, claimed Himelein's March 8 decision means the long-stalled sale likely will be finalized soon.

"It paves the way for us to go ahead and close on the property," he said.

Not true, retorted Richard J. Lippes, the attorney for Friends of J.N. Adam. Opponents of the land deal claim the state's recent decision to reassess numerous issues bodes well in their quest to see the contract voided and a new bidding process begin.

"We had already won before we walked into court," said Lippes, referring to the state's about-face.

Still, Lippes said the group will appeal this month's ruling based on the belief that the court has the right and ample reasons to void the land contract.

Trathen criticized the group's plan to appeal.

"They'll be wasting more of everybody's money if they do," he said, claiming the legal skirmishes are squandering the resources of a city that remains in the throes of a fiscal crisis.

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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