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Lawmakers angered by EPA delay Action holds up work on Route 219 extension

Cattaraugus County lawmakers vented frustration Wednesday over word that an Army Corps of Engineers ermit to cross wetlands -- needed to begin the first stage of a Route 219 extension this season -- may be delayed by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

Many said they thought all concerns had been settled during the state Department of Transportation's past study of the project. They also said they were surprised to hear of the problem, which surfaced last week in communications between the DOT and Southern Tier West Regional Development and Planning Agency in Salamanca.

They expressed fear that any delay could jeopardize federal and state funding now in place to begin construction of a 3.5-mile extension of the Route 219 divided highway south of Springville.

"It's been in the works for 50 years or more, and all of a sudden there are concerns by the Army Corps and the EPA says you haven't considered the alternative route enough," said Legislator Thomas M. Moser, R-Olean, who raised the subject as the Legislature was preparing to adjourn.

"[The other alternative] will thoroughly wipe out Great Valley, Ashford Hollow and half of Ellicottville," said Legislature Chairman Gerard J. Fitzpatrick, R-Ellicottville. "Suddenly you have a federal agency sticking their nose in. I'm a little disgusted."

State Sen. Catherine Young, R-Olean, said in a telephone interview Wednesday afternoon that she was also surprised by the news that "came out of the blue" last week, but she added that the DOT has scheduled a meeting in the near future with all the agencies involved in an effort to quickly resolve the concerns.

Fitzpatrick said he will see to it that a resolution protesting the EPA's delay is drawn up for approval by the full Legislature on April 12.

He said after the meeting that all the agencies and communities involved in planning the highway had decided within the past several years that the issues were adequately studied. They agreed not to rebuild the existing highway and concluded a bypass was undesireable because it would cost as much as a divided four-lane highway.

In other business, the Legislature heard Veterans Service Agency Director John B. Sampson present a 2005 annual report on services for some of the county's 9,000 armed forces veterans.

The agency's personal, telephone and correspondence contacts for the year totaled 14,262, a marked increase over the 8,000 recorded in 2004.

Veterans and their dependents received $12.2 million in various benefits and payments, he said, a 28 percent increase over 2004.

Sampson attributes his agency's rising numbers to growing numbers of Iraq War veterans, an increasing demand for college benefits, the need for insurance supplementation, and the quality services provided by his agency.

He also said that the outpatient clinic in Olean has the second highest market penetration rate in the nation, with 3,945 medical appointments recorded in 2005.

He also said that more than 32 percent of the veterans are using benefits to attend Jamestown Community College and St. Bonaventure University and should be viewed as the "nucleus" of a new resource base.

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