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Niagara Falls lawmakers table agreement on train station reimbursement

NIAGARA FALLS - The City Council majority on Tuesday tabled a measure that would allow the city to be reimbursed by the federal government for some already incurred expenses of the new train station project.

In July, the Council majority tabled a measure that would have paid the city's consultant about $400,000 of the nearly $1.1 million in services its provided for the project. Ninety-five percent of that amount is reimbursable by the state.

Mayor Paul A. Dyster said that while he does not believe the lack of action cripples the project, the Council putting off a vote does create "a huge amount of uncertainty" with a project that's been years in the making and for which a significant amount of money from others has already been spent.  Dyster

"There was no reason for council not to vote on that," Dyster said after Tuesday's Council meeting.

The mayor offered his version of why he believes the measure was tabled.

Dyster, pictured at right, said he sees a pattern of behavior by the Council majority "against anything that advances the city in any way," pointing to the Hamister development proposal and the train station as examples.

He said the majority's decision making "seems more about politics than economic development."

The city is in the process of building a new train station - dubbed the International Railway Station an Intermodal Transportation Center - near the Whirlpool Bridge in the city's North End, a project of which the state and federal governments are picking up close to 90 percent of the costs.

ChoolokianCouncil Chairman Glenn A. Choolokian, part of the three-member majority (and pictured at left), said he just returned from vacation Monday night and did not have time to find answers to his questions about the proposal before the Council meeting. Councilman Samuel F. Fruscione, a majority member along with Choolokian and Robert A. Anderson Jr., said the same thing about Choolokian's concerns when asked why the measure was tabled.

Susan K. Sherwood, project manager for the Wendel companies, the city's consultant, called the measure "a standard agreement," adding the move could mean the city will have to cough up close to $1 million out of its own pocket first, and then have to wait for the federal government to pay the city back.

But that money's not guaranteed to stick around forever, officials said.

So far, about $12 million has been spent on the stabilization of the former Customs House, a new railroad bridge as well as engineering costs, Sherwood said. The city's share is 20 percent of that, she added.

Councilman Charles A. Walker, who is not a part of the majority and voted against tabling the matter, questioned the decision, saying he believes the city could lose money it was given for the project.

"The stalling of this makes no sense at all," Walker said.

The funding has already been set aside by the federal government, Walker said, acknowledging that it would be a different situation if the money wasn't there.

His explanation about why it was tabled: "It's gotta be to stop progress."

Dyster said more approvals will be needed later in the year, including awarding a contract for the project's third phase and to commit the city's matching funding for the project. Both are actions that require Council approval.

"Everything is getting loaded into some final showdown," Dyster said.

Photo credits: Matthew Masin/Buffalo News file photos

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Bob Anderson | City Council | city government | Glenn Choolokian | Paul Dyster | Sam Fruscione
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Tales of a world-famous natural wonder and the city that surrounds it. The Brink is home for all you need to know about Niagara Falls, N.Y.

Aaron Besecker

Aaron Besecker

Aaron Besecker joined The Buffalo News in 2007, where he has covered communities in Western New York as a beat reporter, multimedia journalist and assistant online editor. A Buffalo native, he began his career in journalism at the Niagara Gazette.

@The_Brink_Blog | abesecker@buffnews.com

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