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ECC seeks dismissal of ‘frivolous’ Giambra lawsuit

A lawsuit challenging the construction of a new $30 million Erie Community College academic building in Amherst is frivolous and should be dismissed, lawyers for the college and Erie County argue in court papers.

Attorneys from the Hodgson Russ law firm accused former County Executive Joel A. Giambra and two other men of trying to co-opt the state’s environmental review process by challenging through the court system construction of the college’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics facility at its North Campus.

“Petitioners believe the new ... STEM building should be located in the City of Buffalo and not in the Town of Amherst, and seize upon SEQRA [the state Environmental Quality Review Act] as the sword of choice to force the college and County Legislature to bow to their viewpoint,” wrote Daniel A. Spitzer and Charles W. Malcomb.

Giambra, along with ECC student Wil Turner and North District Common Council Member Joseph Golombek Jr., filed an Article 78 petition in October, asking the court to halt further planning on the building until college and county officials fully explore its potential environmental impacts.

State Supreme Court Justice Jeremiah J. Moriarty III is scheduled to hear arguments in the case on Jan. 8.

County officials told the state Department of Environmental Conservation in July that the project will have no significant environmental effects, and supporters of the proposed facility have been pushing for construction to begin in early 2015.

The lawsuit has helped rekindle a debate over the future of ECC that Giambra started during his time as county executive, when he advocated for the three campuses of the college to be merged into a single downtown campus.

Giambra continues to maintain that spending $30 million on a single building at North Campus would be a “prescription for disaster” for a community that can’t afford to operate three separate campuses anymore.

“I suggest that you have a business model of three campuses that doesn’t work,” he said in a recent interview with The Buffalo News.

But Spitzer and Malcomb argue in their motion to dismiss the case that Giambra, Golombek and Turner do not have the proper legal standing to bring a lawsuit on environmental grounds.

“Petitioners do not live anywhere near the proposed new building and have not even alleged they will be aggrieved by negative environmental impacts,” the lawyers wrote. “There are other concerns driving this lawsuit, and SEQRA is being (mis)used as a means to further a political objective unrelated to its purposes.”