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Lawmaker, planners clash over ethanol plant

Facing pressure to more closely study the impact of a proposed $80 million ethanol plant, city planners said Tuesday a full-blown environmental impact study wouldn't produce much more data than what they've already collected.

The claim faced a swift challenge from Common Council President David A. Franczyk.

"That makes no sense whatsoever," Franczyk said of the assertion that a more expanded environmental review wouldn't yield additional information.

Franczyk wants stronger assurances that the plant proposed for the Buffalo River would not pose health, safety or quality-of-life issues.

Meanwhile, one of the two local businessmen who hope to open the plant in May 2008 reiterated his warning that if the review process drags on much longer, it could doom a project that will create jobs in the emerging alternative fuel industry.

Rick Smith III, a co-founder of RiverWright Energy, insisted that a lengthy study has already addressed virtually all concerns.

William Grillo, a principal planner who advises the city Planning Board, agreed. Grillo said the only area that planners are seeking additional information about involves a Fire Department analysis of the project planned on an 18-acre site along Childs Street.

But several project opponents addressed the Council's Legislation Committee on Tuesday. Maureen Cleary Schaeffer of Citizens Against Environmental Injustice warned that the plant, which would utilize millions of gallons of flammable materials and other toxins, could spawn another "Love Canal" -- the Niagara Falls neighborhood where the discovery of buried toxic chemicals led hundreds of families to evacuate the area.

Opponents worry about explosions, chemical spills and fires. They also fear the plant could create a stench that travels for miles, truck traffic and rodent problems.

Attorney Judith Einach, Green Party mayoral candidate in 2005, accused ethanol proponents of spreading inaccurate information about the benefits of the alternative fuel and of skirting the negatives. For one thing, Einach said, plants that use vast amounts of corn to make ethanol could cause dramatic increases in food prices.

The Planning Board could vote at its April 24 meeting on whether a more exhaustive environmental study is needed or whether board members think all issues have been adequately addressed.


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