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Suit over wetlands delineation eyed

City officials met behind closed doors for nearly an hour last week with an area environmental attorney as they consider a possible lawsuit against state environmental regulators over a pending wetlands delineation.

Craig A. Slater, with the Buffalo office of Harter, Secrest and Emery, met with members of the Common Council in a closed session during a scheduled workshop in City Hall on Tuesday.

City Attorney Shawn P. Nickerson, City Engineer Dale W. Marshall, Jeffrey N. Mis, administrative assistant to Mayor Lawrence V. Soos, and City Clerk-Treasurer Robert G. Ortt also were present for the session.

Private sessions, generally speaking, are permitted for government bodies to receive legal advice.

Slater worked for the state attorney general's office from 1988 to 1991, when he was head of the civil branch of the Environmental Protection Bureau in Buffalo. His primary role involved representing the Department of Environmental Conservation, according to his resume.

He has been in private practice handling environmental cases since 1991.

The state DEC has proposed creating 30 acres of wetlands near Erie Avenue and Walck Roads, a proposal that the city has already said it opposes because of planned developments in the area.

City officials generally have been tight-lipped about the issue and potential litigation.

First Ward Alderman Dennis M. Pasiak, who referred further questions to Nickerson, the city attorney, said a final decision hasn't been made on any lawsuit.

"It might happen," Pasiak said on Sunday. "I don't know for sure."

Nickerson, in e-mails last week, said he was asked by the Council and the mayor's office to invite Slater for a meeting. Slater was recommended by an attorney who previously represented the city on a wetlands matter, Nickerson said in the e-mail.

In recent years, Slater has represented Buffalo Crushed Stone over a quarry expansion proposal in Cheektowaga; developer RJF Development Co. and a subdivision in Lancaster; and RiverWright Energy, which is planning an ethanol plant along the Buffalo River.

In June, the DEC notified 59 landowners in the areas of Sherwood Avenue, Walck Road and Erie Avenue about its plans to make at least some part of their properties part of a wetland.

Classifying an area as a wetland would prohibit activities like excavation and clearing vegetation without first obtaining a permit from the agency.

The area in question includes mostly residences, but also some commercial areas as well as the site of a planned patio home subdivision.

Twin City Ambulance had plans to expand a building it owns at 1001 Erie Ave. The project, which would have made the site the company's headquarters, was terminated shortly after a letter about the wetlands arrived from the DEC.

Marshall, the city engineer, has called the DEC's designation of wetlands a "land grab."


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