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Appeal readied on data center ; Foe to challenge ruling backing plan

A legal challenge will continue against Verizon Communications Inc.'s proposal to build a $4 billion data center in Somerset.

Arthur J. Giacalone, an attorney representing Mary Ann Rizzo of Amherst, said his client will appeal a Jan. 14 State Supreme Court decision in her civil lawsuit challenging the environmental review of the project.

The latest legal action means the case will go before the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court in Rochester.

State Sen. George D. Maziarz, RNewfane, and Assemblyman Stephen Hawley, R-Batavia, on Wednesday asked the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court in Rochester to expedite a ruling in the case. Both represent Somerset.

"It is imperative that this legal proceeding move through the courts as quickly as possible," Maziarz said in a statement. "This is the single largest economic development initiative to be proposed in Niagara County in decades."

Giacalone noted that he has 30 days from the date of Murphy's Jan. 14 ruling to actually file the notice of appeal, which he has not yet done.

After that, the law gives him 60 days to file the full array of briefs along with the transcript and evidence from Murphy's original hearing.

"It is quite ironic that a party that has repeated throughout the zoning application process that it was not committing to actually proceeding with the project is so insistent on expediting the legal process."

"As I have mentioned in the past, I have never been convinced that Verizon has ever been committed to the proposed project in Somerset," Giacalone said in an e-mail to The Buffalo News. "Unlike the town, county and state officials, Mrs. Rizzo refuses to set her clock on 'Verizon time.' "

In his 40-page ruling, acting State Supreme Court Justice Matthew J. Murphy III tossed out every issue raised by Rizzo, who owns property across from the proposed Somerset site on Lake Road, immediately west of the AES Corp. coal-burning power plant.

In a written statement provided by her attorney, Rizzo said she believes Murphy's decision goes "out of its way" to portray her "in a negative light."

"My family and I believe that the legal and environmental concerns that we have raised have not been objectively reviewed," Rizzo said.

Verizon spokesman John J. Bonomo said the company had not seen the appeal and declined to comment. Verizon proposes to buy 178 acres from AES.

The land is now used for growing soybeans.

Verizon has yet to announce its selection of a site for the data center, though Maziarz said last week he expects a decision early this spring.

Maziarz said that a site in Wisconsin "is still in the mix" but that Niagara County is the preferred location.

Rizzo's family has owned 117 acres across the road for 40 years and rents it out to a local farmer. Her initial lawsuit claimed the Town of Somerset had issued a variety of approvals very quickly.

The company had contacted town officials last July, and Verizon submitted a rezoning request Sept. 14.

On Oct. 19, the Town Board approved rezoning the land and officially found that the center would not have a negative environmental impact.

The Planning Board approved a site plan Nov. 1, and the Zoning Board of Appeals granted some needed variances.

On Oct. 26, the State Power Authority allocated 25 megawatts of discounted electricity to Verizon, and the Niagara County Industrial Development Agency granted a 20-year tax break Nov. 10.

Verizon's proposal calls for creating 200 jobs and, eventually, investing $4 billion in the site. The News has calculated the incentives granted to the project at $3.1 million per job.

e-mail: abesecker@buffnews.com

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