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Lockport Town Board expected to vote in protest of state agency’s blocking of Yahoo grants

LOCKPORT – The Town Board is expected to vote Tuesday on a protest resolution over a state agency’s decision to shut Lockport out of half the grant money provided by Yahoo as a condition of the incentive package for its Lockport data and call centers.

“I’m not sure whether it will help or not,” Councilman Paul W. Siejak said at a work session Monday. The answer would appear to be no.

“Empire State Development does not retract their statements,” Marc R. Smith, the town’s economic-development director, told the board after an exchange of emails and phone calls with the agency.

Smith, who was town supervisor during the time when Yahoo set up shop in the town, said he double-checked with David R. Kinyon, his predecessor as economic-development chief, and Kinyon told him that the City and the Town of Lockport were to be preferred for the Yahoo-funded grants, which were supposed to be $500,000 a year for seven years. They expire in 2021. Kinyon said Monday that he never thought any community would be restricted from grants, but the final negotiations were only between Empire State Development, or ESD, and Yahoo.

Last year, the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo distributed $223,041 to 13 recipients through the Yahoo Community Benefit Fund. All the money went to Lockport-area projects or agencies, and the foundation, in announcing the second round of grant applications last month, said the money was reserved for Lockport applicants only.

But Empire State Development, in announcing the ground rules last month for a second fund, the new Yahoo Community Fund for Niagara County, said that it was reserved for applicants in Niagara County outside Lockport.

Smith said, “Up until about 2½ weeks ago, we had no idea what criteria they were going to use. … Somehow, ESD has turned that into an exclusion. I still disagree with that.”

The Niagara County Legislature also passed a protest resolution March 22. The members from Niagara Falls voted against it, however, because the Legislature has excluded Falls projects from receiving any money from the county’s share of Seneca Niagara Casino revenue. The Falls has its own guaranteed casino revenue, which works out to about $18 million a year. Smith said ESD also made reference to the casino money in justifying the exclusion of Lockport from half the Yahoo money.

The agency released a statement Monday by Christopher J. Schoepflin, president of USA Niagara Development Corp.: “Empire State Development reserves the right to make changes to the requirements and criteria it uses to evaluate future projects.”

Also Monday, the Town Board passed a letter of support for the reconstruction of the intersection of Beattie Avenue and Old Beattie, Robinson and Dysinger roads. The state Department of Transportation is to seek bids for the job in November and have it constructed next year. Siejak said the town would like to one addition to the plan: a right-turn lane for northbound traffic in addition to the planned left-turn lane.

Southbound traffic will be able to choose from among three lanes: left turn, straight and right turn, while northbound drivers going straight will share a lane with those turning right. At a public meeting March 23, a DOT official said that there wasn’t enough traffic turning right in that direction to justify an extra lane.