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Pendleton to stick with original vision for trail

PENDLETON – After flirting with alternative routes, the Pendleton Town Board has decided to stick with its original plan for a trail along an abandoned railroad right-of-way that cuts across the town.

The board recently voted to design a trail from Campbell Boulevard to Wheatfield-Pendleton Town Line Road, which cuts through the Tonawanda Sportsmen’s Club property on Killian Road.

In 2014, the town was approved for a $640,000 federal grant, money passed along by the state Department of Transportation, to pay for 80 percent of the construction cost for the trail. The town has to pay the remaining 20 percent of the construction tab, besides funding the entire design phase itself.

“The project has to be let by September of 2017, because that’s when the grant expires,” DOT spokeswoman Susan S. Surdej said.

The vote wasn’t unanimous, though. Councilman David I. Fischer voted no, contending the route doesn’t go anywhere interesting. He said the town should have used a different route to link up with the Erie Canalway Trail, which is to be completed in the next year or so from Amherst to Feigle Road in Pendleton.

“We had discussed it as a Town Board, tying it into the Amherst bike path, the East Canal (Road) one that leads to Lockport,” Fischer said.

Other critics, including members of the sportsmen’s club, have said it was a bad idea to run the trail near the sportsmen’s club property, where the primary activity is shooting guns.

Town Attorney Claude A. Joerg said, “All they’ve got to do is not shoot the guns onto town property.”

Supervisor Joel M. Maerten said, “I think it’s appalling that the Tonawanda Sportsmen’s Club would say that they can’t follow New York State law and refrain from discharging firearms a certain distance from their property lines. Basically, they’re saying they can’t guarantee the safety of adjoining property owners. That’s just ridiculous, and if they can’t operate safely, maybe they shouldn’t be operating at all.”

Randall L. Jasulevich, a member of the club’s board of directors, said the shooting limit is 500 feet away from an occupied dwelling. “We already clarified this with the previous (town) board,” he said. “We are allowed to shoot up to our property line.”

He said the trail, about 4,000 feet of which cuts through a wooded part of the club property at a 45-degree angle, is permitted because of a 66-foot-wide easement. But Jasulevich said there are risks involved in any gunfire.

“Our motto around this club is, ‘Our first accident is our last accident,’ because the moment anything happens, they’re going to want to shut us down,” Jasulevich said.

He said the construction of safety barriers along the trail, or digging it below ground level so stray bullets would pass over pedestrians’ heads, would bust the budget for the project by hundreds of thousand of dollars.

The town has cited the club for allegedly allowing shooting outside of the hours permitted in town law, which is 10 a.m. until dusk. Maerten said the citation came after the Town Board tried and failed to mediate a dispute between the club and nearby residents.

Jasulevich said the club, which has been operating on Killian Road for more than half a century, can show that the alleged violations occurred during hunting season and shouldn’t have been violations at all.

Jasulevich accused the town of having a “vendetta” against the sportsmen’s club because of the club’s unpopular deal with National Fuel to provide property for the company’s controversial natural gas compressor project, which awaits approval from federal regulators.

Fischer said the gun issue isn’t why he voted no on the trail. He said the town would have been better advised to move the trail about half a mile off the path of the old railroad, and instead of crossing Lockport Road in the middle of an empty field, the trail could join the state’s Canalway Trail, which crosses Lockport Road at the bridge over the Erie Canal at Bear Ridge Road. The trail has a parking lot between East Canal and Bear Ridge roads.

There is no sidewalk, so a pedestrian bridge would have been needed over the canal, similar to the one the state built to take the trail over Tonawanda Creek at the Amherst-Pendleton border where East Canal Road becomes New Road.

“With the funding, we could have found enough money for a cantilever bridge at Lockport Road,” Fischer said. Maerten said he thinks additional money would have been needed.

Joerg, who also serves as Niagara County attorney, said it’s a county road, and the county didn’t favor any addition to the bridge there.

Another alternative route, along Meyer Road, “didn’t seem to make a lot of sense,” Joerg said.

Maerten said it would have involved disturbing many property owners along that road, while the town already owns the path of the former railroad.

Surdej said the terms of the federal Transportation Alternatives Program, which provided the rails-to-trails money, require the DOT to approve the route the town chooses.

The town hired C&S Engineers of Buffalo for the design work. Maerten said the firm is being paid with revenue from green space fees the town charges developers. He said the Town Board will have to take another vote on the final plan before it goes to the DOT.

Jasulevich said the additional public hearing “is good news for us.” He criticized the proposed trail route as “a path that starts nowhere and ends nowhere.”