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Lockport arena drops threatened lawsuit over water leak

LOCKPORT – The board of Cornerstone Arena will not pursue legal action against the City of Lockport over a water leak that threatened the building’s foundations, even though the fiasco allegedly cost the arena $200,000.

In response to a question from the audience during Wednesday’s Common Council meeting, Corporation Counsel John J. Ottaviano, who also is president of the arena, said the arena’s attorney has decided to drop the matter.

“We’re not pursuing that any further,” said Ottaviano, who said he absented himself from all discussions the arena board about suing the city to avoid a conflict of interest. He is the city’s top attorney as well as head of the private, not-for-profit arena.

Lockport Ice Arena and Sports Center, as the board is formally known, filed a notice of claim against the city over its inability to locate the source of a leak that was first noticed last June.

The city purchased a new leak-detection unit for $30,000, but even that failed to stem the tide. Ottaviano said the water is still leaking into the arena foundations to this day, where it is corralled by a sump pump that wasn’t part of the original arena plan.

“It’s substantially subsided, and it no longer poses a problem to the rink,” said Ottaviano. He said the sump pump also takes care of groundwater penetrating into the foundations of the arena.

He said the decision to drop the case was made by the arena’s attorney, Terence M. Gilbride of Buffalo’s Hodgson Russ law firm, who served the city with the notice of claim Sept. 16, accusing the city of negligence, trespass and creating a public nuisance. The document claimed the sump pump and the digging of a pit to house it cost $200,000.

City Democrats accused Republican Ottaviano of violating the city code of ethics in creating a conflict of interest over the threatened lawsuit, but Ottaviano said the Board of Ethics cleared him.

“I don’t know if they ever held a meeting,” said the complainant, city Democratic Party Chairman Edward W. Tracy.

He said he received a call from ethics chairwoman Margaret F. Truax. “She kind of led me to believe it didn’t merit an investigation,” Tracy said.

Meanwhile, Ottaviano and other city leaders were impressed at the results of last weekend’s junior hockey tournament at the arena, the first hockey tournament in Lockport since 1986.

Besides the scheduled tournament hosted by the Lockport Express, there were games in a kids’ tournament that were shifted from HarborCenter in Buffalo, including a team from Moscow. There were stories of crowds being turned away at one restaurant, while a sub shop reportedly ran out of meat.

Those stories were music to the ears of the arena management, which had promised the twin-rink complex at Chestnut and Market streets would bring thousands of visitors to the city and create lots of business for restaurants and hotels. A draft of a hotel consultant’s study said Lockport could stand to build two more hotels because of the arena and hoped-for tourism at the Flight of Five, the 19th century Erie Canal locks, which were partially restored last year.