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Infrastructure is chief concern in Tonawanda supervisor's report

A bit of local history provided context Friday as Tonawanda Town Supervisor Anthony F. Caruana delivered the annual state of the town address.

The event was held at Caruana's alma mater -- Cardinal O'Hara High School, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

And the address was dedicated to the founders of the town, which will observe its 175th anniversary on April 16.

At its founding, the town had approximately 1,200 residents and encompassed the Village of Kenmore, Grand Island, City of Tonawanda and other nearby islands in the Niagara River.

Its population of more than 110,000 in the 1960s distinguished it as the first township in Erie County to surpass 100,000 residents. The most recent census lists the population at 78,000, the supervisor noted.

Now, "Of major concern is our aging and crumbling infrastructure; our sewer and our water lines and roads," Caruana said. Housing stock and town facilities need attention, as well.

"Probably the greatest fiscal challenge facing the town is meeting the unfunded mandate of reducing the town's sanitary sewer overflows," he said. The ongoing, $30 million Parker-Fries sewer replacement project will address that issue, but solving the problem townwide is expected to take several decades and an estimated $300 million.

Nevertheless, 2010 was a good year, Caruana continued, launching into an accounting of the year's highlights and future plans. Among them:

*Overwhelming demand led to the addition of a second wall at the veterans memorial.

*Solar panels will be installed on five town buildings, providing solar power to administrative areas.

*General Motors' Tonawanda Engine plant was selected to produce not only the four-cylinder EcoTec engine, but also a new V-8 engine, preserving hundreds of jobs.

There are challenges ahead, Caruana cautioned.

"There is uncertainty now with respect to economic development as we proceed into 2011. We have a new administration in Albany," he said. The fear is that brownfields programs, to remediate and redevelop contaminated sites, may face the same fate as the tax breaks offered through the Empire Zone program, which was closed last year to new entrants.

"Our success in recent years has not been the result of chance," Caruana said. "Careful planning and deliberate actions have put us in a position to take advantage of opportunities that have come along. We will continue on this proven course."

e-mail: jhabuda@buffnews.com

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