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Contractor claims Collins threat, seeks $50,000 for repairs

The attorney for a West Seneca paving firm has filed a notice of claim against Erie County demanding nearly $50,000 for correcting a sewer problem it blames on the county.

Gregory P. Photiadis, attorney for Sue/Perior Concrete and Paving Inc., also contends that Erie County Executive Chris Collins forced the Native-American company to repair storm sewer culverts along East and West Road in West Seneca by threatening to "blackball" it.

The county has ignored the company's efforts to get paid for the work, done last fall, Photiadis said.

During an Oct. 15 meeting with representatives of the contractor and County Public Works Commissioner Gerard J. Sentz, Deputy Highways Commissioner Gary M. Zawodzinski and West Seneca officials, Collins accused Sue/Perior of wrongdoing, Photiadis said.

Collins, Photiadis added, "falsely stated that Sue/Perior had damaged the sewer culverts during prior work it had done on the water lines beneath East and West Road."

Collins "threatened that Sue/Perior must immediately provide the labor and equipment to install new sewer culverts" and if it failed to do so, Collins said, "I'll blackball your company so fast you'll never work in this county again," Photiadis said.

Grant Loomis, Collins' spokesman, said the county could say little in response, since litigation is pending. "But in general, we believe the lawsuit is absolutely frivolous and without merit and will be vigorously defended," he said.

Loomis said the county believes the action was taken solely because the county executive "called them to task for what he saw as work that damaged county property, county facilities and harmed local residents."

Statements from homeowners in the area where Sue/Perior did work for the town two years ago attest that after the contractor "walked way" from that job, they began experiencing flooding in their basements and yards, something that never occurred before, Loomis said.

During the talks last year, the contractor was given the option of using county-supplied material to repair the damage or reimbursing the county for repair work contracted out to another firm. It opted to do the work itself, Loomis said.

Photiadis said problems with the county-owned sewer culverts were noticed two years ago when Sue/Perior, under a contract with the Town of West Seneca, replaced water lines along East and West Road. But the county, he said, never followed through with a repair proposal.

"At the direction of the Town of West Seneca" Sue/Perior replaced a 410-foot section of "very badly deteriorated culvert," and the town re-imbursed the company for that work, Photiadis said.

Then, Photiadis said, county officials began "fabricating the accusation that the deteriorated and silted conditions of the storm drains" along the road were the fault of Sue/Perior, Photiadis said.

He added that the company completed the work in November because a substantial portion of its seven-figure annual business comes from within the county and it feared losing county work in the face of Collins' threat.

In excavating the road and exposing the sewer culvert, the company found the culvert deterioration "was the result of the wear of time and neglect" by the county, he said.

Photiadis said that unless the county pays the contractor's claim "within a reasonable time," Sue/Perior will file suit against the county and Collins personally seeking damages for impairment of its business and infringement of its corporate constitutional rights.

e-mail: mgryta@buffnews.com

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