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IDA chief laments loss of Verizon

In the wake of the demise last week of the Verizon Communications data center project, the chairman of the Niagara County Industrial Development Agency said Friday he worries that the county may gain a reputation for litigation that could harm its hopes of landing major new projects.

"You can run that risk," Henry M. Sloma said. "This is a big world, and developers can go anywhere."

The lawsuit in the Verizon case was filed not by a Niagara County resident but by Mary Ann Rizzo of Amherst, who owns land on the opposite side of Lake Road in Somerset from Verizon's proposed site.

Citing delays caused in part by the lawsuit and in part by inability to complete a land purchase deal, Verizon announced Thursday it had scrapped the $4 billion project.

Sloma denounced "people who come out of the woodwork with these frivolous lawsuits."

Rizzo lost her case in court but won in terms of derailing the project. County Judge Matthew J. Murphy III ruled against her Jan. 14.

But Rizzo appealed, and when Verizon sought an expedited timetable for handling the appeal, the Appellate Division of State Supreme sat on the motion to expedite for three weeks before rejecting it.

That meant the case might not have reached the stage of oral arguments until this fall.

"If we waited until fall, it would have put us into another construction season," Sloma said. "This stuff can't wait."

Arthur J. Giacalone, Rizzo's attorney, angrily responded to attacks Thursday from State Sen. George D. Maziarz, who denounced New York's "snail-like judiciary."

Maziarz said, "I will be looking at ways to legislate around this nonsense so the next one doesn't get away. That could mean mandating significant penalties if lawsuits are deemed without merit, which this suit clearly is."

Giacalone said the courts moved fast when Rizzo's suit was filed Nov. 15.

After State Supreme Court Justice Ralph A. Boniello III recused himself because Niagara County was a defendant and he used to be county attorney, Murphy took over the case, "conducting five or six hours of oral argument in December the day after he was assigned to the case."

Giacalone accused Maziarz of "grandstanding" and added that Maziarz's opinion "shows his misunderstanding and disdain for the judicial process. The legal system has not been abused by Mrs. Rizzo, as the senator proclaims, and the issues she has raised are significant. Whipping up hostility towards Mrs. Rizzo, her lawyer, or the system, will lead to nothing constructive."