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Niagara County OKs aid for high-water protection projects at Olcott Harbor

The Niagara County Legislature voted Tuesday to chip in $221,000 for three projects designed to protect Olcott Harbor from rising water levels in Lake Ontario.

Legislator David E. Godfrey, a Republican who represents the lakefront community of Wilson, cast the only vote against the spending.

"I can't support it because it's going to open Pandora's box," Godfrey said Wednesday.

His vote came more than a month after he told Wilson officials that he wouldn't back their requests for county aid to their lakefront projects because of the county's fiscal worries.

The legislator in the neighboring district, Legislature Vice Chairman John Syracuse, didn't see it that way. The Newfane Republican won the support of the whole Legislature – except Godfrey – for assistance to the Olcott projects.

The money will come from an economic development account funded by the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission, which operates the three international bridges in Niagara County.

Syracuse criticized Godfrey's "failure to respond to his constituents' reasonable ask."

Cuomo announces $49 million in Lake Ontario projects, including Olcott breakwall

As for setting a precedent for aiding local projects, "the precedent has been set years ago," Syracuse said. "We just gave $75,000 to the City of Lockport to repair the Flight of Five steps from the same fund."

In view of Tuesday's vote, Godfrey said he'll change his tune and sponsor county aid to Wilson's lakefront projects.

"I have no choice. The precedent has been set. I can't deny my constituents," Godfrey said.

Godfrey said he was worried about "the huge issue we're going to have with the Medicaid deficit."

He was referring to the possibility that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and the State Legislature may push more Medicaid costs onto counties.

The state's Lake Ontario Resiliency and Economic Development Initiative will pay 95% of the costs of lakefront projects it endorsed late last year. But local governments must pay the remaining 5%.

For the Town of Newfane, which includes Olcott, that meant an $876,0000 share for three projects: the $14 million Olcott breakwall, as well as $1.7 million worth of containment walls for the harbor and a $1.8 million berm for Olcott Beach.

Syracuse and Newfane Supervisor Timothy R. Horanburg said county help with the local share was justified because the breakwall has long been listed as a regional economic development priority project.

Wilson Supervisor Doyle H. Phillips confirmed that Godfrey said no a month and a half ago to a county contribution as the local share of Wilson's state-approved lakefront projects.

"He was looking out for the county. He thought if they gave it to one, they'd have to give it to everyone," Phillips said.

The Town of Wilson's state project is a $3.36 million barrier to protect low-lying Sunset Island west of the village. Matching funds would be about $168,000.

Godfrey said he had also refused Village of Wilson Mayor Arthur Lawson's request for help with two state-approved projects: a $4.4 million plan to close its vulnerable wastewater treatment plant, located on a harborside peninsula, while building a pipeline to divert all village sewage to Newfane's plant; and a $1.6 million plan to raise Townline Pier by 4 feet to prevent inundation.

Lawson said Thursday he may not ask again. He believes that through use of reserves, the village can handle its $225,000 in matching funds.

"The village is fine. We're in a strong financial position," Lawson said.

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