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At GOP event, lobbying Lee for stimulus Congressman hears about infrastructure

Niagara County economic-development officials took advantage of Rep. Chris Lee's presence at a Republican Party event here Thursday to lobby him on behalf of projects the county would like to see included in the federal economic-stimulus package, which Lee voted against last week.

Legislature Majority Leader Richard E. Updegrove of Lockport, who attended the breakfast in Suzanne's restaurant, said the pitch to the GOP congressman from Clarence emphasized infrastructure plans such as road, bridge and water line projects.

"He seemed to be very receptive to our requests because of that," Updegrove said.

Niagara County GOP Chairman Henry F. Wojtaszek said Lee was the featured guest at his "Chairman's Club" breakfast for major contributors to the GOP.

"He's very much in favor of projects that would really stimulate the economy," Wojtaszek said. "He told me privately that he does support infrastructure projects."

Lee's press secretary, Andrea Bozek, said, "Chris has been working with his Democratic colleagues in the upstate delegation, including Congresswoman [Louise M.] Slaughter and Congressman [Brian] Higgins, to improve infrastructure in our region. High-speed rail is one prominent example of that."

The county's effort came on the heels of a presentation at Tuesday's Niagara County Legislature meeting by Economic Development Commissioner Samuel M. Ferraro on the massive number of projects the county is suggesting for inclusion in the legislation.

The Buffalo News calculated that it includes 121 projects costing $253.6 million.

Ferraro said, "Given the tight time parameters, we were still able to compile a very comprehensive list."

It includes practically every government, environmental or economic-development project ever thought of in recent years in Niagara County.

Ferraro's presentation led to Legislature Minority Leader Dennis F. Virtuoso, D-Niagara Falls, needling Lee for joining all other Republicans in voting against the stimulus bill when it passed the House of Representatives last week.

"Why would he be against something that might be the biggest thing for Niagara County ever?" Virtuoso asked.

Virtuoso asked for a vote to show support for economic stimulus, which seemed to make the Republicans who control the Legislature nervous.

Legislature Chairman William L. Ross, C-Wheatfield, suggested simply mailing in the list with a cover letter of support, which the Legislature wouldn't have had to vote on.

"Support for our proposal is not necessarily a commentary on the federal stimulus package," Updegrove said during the debate.

In the end, it was decided to refer the package to the Economic Development Committee, with Updegrove as chairman, which meets Wednesday.

Ross said Thursday, "You want to support the stimulus, but if you're in the Republican or Conservative Party, you don't want to support some of the things that don't pertain to job creation."

Bozek said Lee "is committed to forging a bipartisan consensus on a timely, fiscally responsible economic-recovery plan that creates jobs in Niagara County and all of Western New York. He supports a plan that he helped craft that creates twice the number of jobs at half the cost of the current stimulus plan."

The Senate has yet to act on the stimulus bill. Its legislation is expected to differ from the House version, which will lead to a conference committee between the houses and a second vote.

The Niagara County proposal seeks money for big-ticket projects such as the Niagara Experience Center and a new train station in Niagara Falls; Lockport's Transit North corridor makeover and Flight of Five Erie Canal locks restoration; construction of Niagara County Community's College's culinary institute and Learning Commons; and capping the county Refuse Disposal District landfill in Lockport.

Noteworthy omissions include the county's proposed new public works headquarters and the long-range plan for a new county office campus. However, the county does request money for a new records storage building, an emergency operations center and a vehicle and evidence storage building for the Sheriff's Office.

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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