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Griffin uncharacteristically neutral amid polarization on ethanol plant

"I've heard good arguments on both sides," the familiar figure at the lectern said Wednesday evening when the applause for him died down in the packed meeting room at the Old First Ward Community Center, "but I don't want to see something promised to us and five years later it goes under and we're left holding the bag. We've had too many disappointments."

Former four-term Mayor James D. Griffin did not throw his support to one side or the other in this, the second of two environmental justice hearings for the proposed $80 million ethanol plant on the Buffalo River, but he might have been the only one in the room without a strong feeling for it or against it.

At first, it seemed as if there were only objections after an opening presentation by the developer, RiverWright Energy.

The company's attorney, Fred Slater; co-owner Rick Smith; and Steve Healey, an engineer from KL Design, which will run the plant, spent half an hour outlining the plant's benefits -- 67 jobs, revival of old grain elevators, minimal pollution, use of existing infrastructure.

They also said they were addressing the major concerns -- odor, fire, health issues, noise and rats ("We've been killing them off," Slater said) -- that came up in earlier hearings and surveys of the neighborhood.

"People have this picture of a refinery," Healey said, "and it's not. It's going to be like making beer and booze. The solid product is turned into cattle feed."

This rosy outlook quickly was challenged by attorney Judith Einach, Green Party mayoral candidate in 2005, who gave a tightly detailed critique of RiverWright and topped it off by calling the company "deceitful and deliberately manipulative."

Making booze? "In the recipe, there are hazardous materials," she argued.

Cattle feed? "Inferior to what cattle eat," she contended.

Jobs? "I want to know how many Perry Projects residents will work there," she said.

Julie Cleary and Maureen Cleary Schaeffer of Citizens Against Environmental Injustice cited problems at other ethanol plants with odors and pollution.

First Ward resident Dave Bannister raised concerns about large releases of water vapor. Louis Crull of East Aurora cited the impact on corn supplies and the creation of another "stinking industry."

Proponents, however, were equally ardent.

Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority Commissioner Leonard Williams said there would not be a major reconstruction of the Perry Projects if the authority thought that the plant was dangerous.

Kitty Lambert, who recently moved to the Old First Ward from Phoenix, cited the run-down neighborhood and concluded, "I'm here to tell you you can't hurt my property values."

e-mail: danderson@buffnews.com

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