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Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Niagara Co. Legislature may seek criminal investigation of Falls Water Board

All WNY News     Wednesday, August 02, 2017    

STAFF REPORTS



NIAGARA FALLS -- Niagara County lawmakers will be summoned to a special meeting next week to take up four resolutions that urge the leadership of the Niagara Falls Water Board to resign, and calling for criminal investigations of the weekend release of black, foul-smelling wastewater at the base of Niagara Falls.

"The Board's conduct here is beyond defense, and they have lost our confidence," said Niagara County Legislature Majority Leader Randy R. Bradt, R-North Tonawanda.  "We will ask the Niagara County District Attorney (Caroline A. Wojtastzek) and (New York State) Attorney General (Eric T.) Schneiderman to examine the facts surrounding this matter and to determine if criminal charges should be brought."

Bradt said that news reports that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation were casting doubt on Water Board claims that proper procedures were followed had prompted the decision to move forward with a package of four resolutions that seek the resignations of the entire Water Board and senior management, as well as call on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Schneiderman, and Wojtaszek to investigate whether criminal charges are warranted.

An Associated Press story filed Wednesday quoted Cuomo as saying, "The original version of — 'Well, we did this and this was pursuant to a (Department of Environmental Conservation) permit' — I don't believe is true. They have a DEC permit to operate the facility, but it has to be operated in a proper way."

Bradt echoed the governor's concerns.

"The local tourism promotion agency released figures two years ago that said Niagara County tourism was an $827 million-a-year industry," Bradt said.  "Since Saturday, Niagara Falls has been in every major media outlet around the country, and most around the world. The last time they got this much attention, Nik Wallenda was walking across a tightrope—and that had a massive positive economic impact on the region. We can only imagine the damage done to tourism-related businesses due to this mismanagement by the Water Board."

Bradt and Legislators Rebecca Wydysh, R-Lewiston, Kathryn Lance, R-Wheatfield, and Will Collins, R-Lockport, drafted four resolutions Wednesday after Cuomo called for a DEC investigation of the Water Board's actions.

One of those resolutions directly calls on Niagara Falls Water Board Chairman Dan O'Callaghan and members Gretchen Leffler, Colleen Larkin, Renae Kimble, and Nicholas Forster to resign.  That resolution also seeks the resignations of Water Board Executive Director Rolfe Porter, Wastewater Chief Operator Joe LaGamba, and Superintendent of Operations Bob Drury, as well as legal counsel for the Board.

"The failure of leadership here is astonishing," Wydysh said.  "As a legislator who represents a community that was downstream from this release, I'm concerned about the wanton disregard for my neighbors' health. People in Lewiston have a right to know why this material was flushed into the Niagara River, when the DEC is now saying it should not have been."

Wydysh cited a news report on radio station WBFO that quoted DEC Spokesman Sean Mahar as saying the discharge was "clearly" a violation of water quality standards.

"The violation of the state's water quality standards are subject to fines, but this investigation is very much ongoing right now so it's hard to say exactly what any enforcement actions could be levied against the water treatment board," Mahar told WBFO.

Bradt says he is confident that the Legislature has the votes to pass all four resolutions.

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