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Wal-Mart stirs fear of flooding in Amherst Residents voice concern at Planning Board forum

Flooding was the main concern of residents attending Thursday night's Amherst Planning Board forum on the proposed Wal-Mart Supercenter.

The Planning Board has declared itself the lead agency in what promises to be a lengthy process facing the Arkansas-based retail giant.

Developers filed a site plan for the proposed 216,000-square-foot store in December on a 67-acre site fronted by Millersport Highway and Smith and New roads.

Thursday's scoping session, an option under the state Environmental Quality Review Act, was scheduled because of the project's scale and the public interest it has generated, planners said.

"The focus here is on the potential significant adverse impacts," Planning Director Eric W. Gillert said.

"I want to make it very clear this is not a forum for expressing opposition or support."

Despite the public outcry the proposal has spawned, some residents said they were disappointed by the turnout at Thursday's meeting. There were plenty of empty seats in Council chambers, and 20 people had signed up to address the Planning Board.

Michael and Elizabeth Smith of New Road presented photographs of a spring flood in 1985 that left the neighborhood under more than two feet of water. Flooding is a significant problem in the area, particularly when Ransom and Black creeks overflow. .

Christopher Hiestand of Hopkins Road said Ransom Creek runs through his property, which was flooded in 2004. "I strongly feel that any new development will provide more and more of these situations," he said.

Traffic was another concern raised by several residents.

Frank Giusti of New Road prefaced his specific concerns by saying he would address "numerous transportation deficiencies and omissions" in the site plan.

New Road, Giusti said, is an undersized rural road of two lanes, each 10 1/2 feet wide, with a five-ton posted weight limit and no shoulders.

He referred repeatedly to tractor-trailers using the road to deliver merchandise to the store.

"This is a rural road. This is New Road. This is what we're dealing with here," Giusti said. "Does it make any sense? I don't think so."

Roger Schroder of Hopkins Road, chairman of the town's Conservation Advisory Council, presented several graphics showing how the elevation of the store's parking lot would exacerbate flooding problems and isolate wetland areas from a drainage ditch on the property.

So repetitive were the comments that roughly half-way through the list of speakers, Planning Board Chairwoman Catharine M. Weiss said: "If you could focus on some other issues of importance, we would appreciate it."

A few residents also commented about over saturation of another type, citing Wal-Mart's existing stores on Niagara Falls Boulevard, Transit Road and another proposed for Lockport.

"What is the impact on the small businesses?" Michael Smith asked. "You don't have competition anymore; you have a monopoly."

e-mail: jhabuda@buffnews.com

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