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Board backs Escarpment inventory

The Town Board Wednesday expressed support for a Niagara Escarpment preservation plan -- barely.

The board voted, 3-2, to send a letter backing the Western New York Land Conservancy's request for $317,000 in Niagara River Greenway money to pay for an inventory of properties along the Escarpment.

The Conservancy has a long-term plan to conserve the Escarpment, the ridge that runs west to east across Niagara County, in as wild a state as possible.

"It's a valuable natural resource," said Supervisor Marc R. Smith, who supported the idea.

Councilman Paul H. Pettit and Paul W. Siejak wanted no part of it and voted no.

Although the town won't be spending any money on the study, Pettit said his vote was based on principle.

He said conserving the Escarpment would bar any future use of the land by the town or by the private owners.

"For studying rocks, trees, flowers and salamanders, it looks exorbitant to me," Pettit said.

"It seems like it's a huge consulting fee to take an inventory of something that's been there for 400 million years," Siejak said. "I think it's a waste of valuable resources that could be used for other purposes."

Nancy Smith, stewardship manager for the Conservancy, said in a statement, "Creating an inventory of the natural resources along the Niagara Escarpment will lead to good decision-making in protecting and enhancing this iconic community asset."

She said Ontario and Wisconsin have taken successful steps toward preserving their segments of the Escarpment.

"The inventory will identify unique ecological, scenic, geologic and cultural heritage resources. The combination of preserving and enhancing these resources along with providing opportunities for public access can have a significant impact on the quality of life in a community. There are also potential economic benefits through ecotourism," Smith said. "It all starts with knowing what you have."

In late 2011, the Conservancy acquired 36 acres of Escarpment land off Leete Road in the town, its first such acquisition. It came in a deal with the private owners to sell 1,000 linear feet of the Escarpment.

The Conservancy also is helping the town develop a piece of wild land near the Erie Canal called Lytle Nature Park. It's one of seven sites in Erie and Niagara counties on the Conservancy's July 8 Natural Garden and Backyard Habitat Tours.

Siejak, who announced the event at Wednesday's board session, said reservations are needed for the tours at 1, 3 and 5 p.m. They can be made by calling the Conservancy at 687-1225.