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Legislature OK likely for Evans helipad Hamburg's Reynolds will vote to lease site

The placement of the Erie County Sheriff's Office helipad in the Town of Evans is expected to be approved by the County Legislature today.

The Legislature will vote on whether to approve an agreement with Jay Milligan of Hamburg to lease a hangar and paved landing pad at 7941 Versailles Plank Road for two years.

Legislator Bob Reynolds, D-Hamburg, said he is supporting the resolution, but only grudgingly. He doesn't see any other alternative.

"I am not happy about what's going on down there," said Reynolds, whose district includes both the current site, off Camp Road in Hamburg, and the proposed site.

Reynolds said the Sheriff's Office and county executive's office didn't follow proper procedures in putting the lease plan together.

"They didn't do a proper request for proposal," Reynolds said. "The administration did their legwork without letting the district legislator know what was going on. I heard about it from the public.

"I also know we're doing some stuff to the property, and I don't understand why we're doing improvements to the property without a lease agreement."

County workers have been seen working on the property in recent months, even though there was no deal yet.

The office of County Executive Joel A. Giambra and the Sheriff's Office did not respond to requests to comment Wednesday afternoon.

Reynolds said he believed the deal had been in the works since February.

But the legislator said he can't vote against the deal. Rent was raised on the old site to more than $40,000 a year, and the lease will end Dec. 31. Without a new site, the county's helicopter services would have to shut down.

"I don't want two fishermen out on that ice that we can't rescue without a helicopter," Reynolds said, referring to the dramatic Lake Erie rescues the helicopter pilots have become known for.

The new deal will see the county pay $18,000 to Milligan in 2007 and $19,000 in 2008 for the use of a landing pad and hangar at his small private airport.

Reynolds said he has been in talks with the Sheriff's Office, and its goal after the two-year deal ends is to find a spot on county land where the heliport, the county's hazardous materials squad equipment and the Sheriff's Office's boats could all be housed.

But observers have their doubts. About 60 Evans residents voiced their opposition at a Nov. 16 meeting.

Norm Bromley, who was active in getting the area zoned agricultural, said he has been approached by several residents who say they are appalled by the process.

"Apparently they've spent a lot of money in there now, and nobody wants to take the blame," Bromley said. "So they're going to jam it through. And once they get it in, it will never leave."

Milligan contends the project needs no local zoning approvals since the site is already a licensed airstrip.

e-mail: eploetz@buffnews.com

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