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Arthur A. Elia, leader in construction company; July 3, 1928 -- Dec. 22, 2011

Arthur A. Elia of Wilson was a member of an influential Niagara Falls family whose building company made headlines for two vastly different initiatives -- "turning off the falls" and serving as the principal contractor for cleanup work at Love Canal.

Mr. Elia died Thursday in Niagara Hospice House, Lockport. He was 83.

The son of Italian immigrants, he was a Niagara Falls native and graduated from Niagara Falls High School in 1946. At age 16, he began working for his father's business, the Albert Elia Building Co., starting as a laborer before moving up the company ladder.

In 1947, Mr. Elia and his three brothers formally incorporated the company, which specialized in residential building construction, along with industrial, institutional and civil construction work. The company gradually grew into one of New York State's largest general contractors.

Mr. Elia's expertise was in managing the work program of the company's Highway and Heavy Division. One of the company's major projects was the rerouting of the American Falls in 1969, dubbed the "turning off" of the falls.

Following the nationwide attention to the toxic-waste concerns at Niagara Falls' Love Canal in 1977, Mr. Elia became determined to pursue work in the hazardous-waste remediation industry.

In the late 1970s, Mr. Elia's "seven sons" -- actually, his three sons and his nephews -- collaborated with him to form the Sevenson Containment Corp., which later became the principal contractor for the Love Canal cleanup, with Arthur Elia at the helm. That laid the framework for what would become Sevenson Environmental Services Inc.

The Elia family continues to be a major contributor to the Niagara Falls community.

Survivors include his wife of 63 years, the former Shirley Knize; three sons, Laurence A., Michael A. and Richard A.; a daughter, Christine E. DeLuca; and two sisters, Irene and Ida.

A Mass of Christian Burial will be offered at 10 a.m. Tuesday in St. Brendan on the Lake, 3455 Ewings Road, Newfane.

[g/warner]