By Michael Regan
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — It’s been on the back burner for longer than anyone cares to remember.
But after more than a decade North Tonawanda is nearing the final stages of a Meadow Drive expansion plan, held to a standstill during several rounds of bureaucratic wrangling.
While the blueprint for the extension is in place and the city has already cleared several hurdles, which included convincing the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to lift a wetland designation in the area of the project and ebbing residents’ concerns about an explosive commercial district, officials still had to cultivate the rights to four small parcels of land.
One was purchased from a business and another foreclosed upon during the last year, leaving both in the city’s hands.
The final two properties required an easement pact with the CSX rail company, which owns the rail line and the nearby plots of land, with efforts to acquire the the rights to pass through it dating back to previous administrations.
It was during former Mayor Larry Soos’ reign that City Attorney Shawn Nickerson said he needed to persuade a judge to grant the easements through court proceedings. He was successful, but at the time he said there would be challenges to come.
“Once that happened, once that hearing took place, it’s kind of been stuck in the bureaucracy of CSX,” Nickerson said. “It’s been a red tape nightmare dealing with them, they’re a huge corporation. The biggest roadblock so far has been CSX.”
Yet, with concerns rising among the city’s governmental hierarchy about the length of the process, including the consternation of Mayor Rob Ortt, Nickerson said the current administration redoubled its resolve.
“The mayor certainly was very concerned and he said, ‘enough is enough,’” Nickerson recalled. “Through his office and my office, we put on a full court press.”
Nickerson said he, City Engineer Dale Marshall and the mayor’s assistant, Robert Welch, contacted dozens of engineers over the summer from the giant multinational company and pushed through negotiations.
Tuesday evening was a culmination of years of jostling, when the common council voted unanimously to approve a supplemental engineering agreement and authorization to move ahead with easement plans. The city, though, says there’s still a way to go.
“Once the contract is signed by the mayor my office will have a closing and acquire that permanent easement,” Nickerson said. “From there the certification is going to have to be signed. Once that is signed it goes to the DOT for review and hopefully shortly after that they will authorize the allocation of funds and we’ll be sending it out to bid. But when the mayor signs the contract it’s set in stone.”
Marshall said he also has to meet with federal regulators to discuss another 0.12-acre area still designated as a wetland, though he expects to come to terms on it and put the $2 million project out to bid. Marshall was able to scale back the cost by narrowing the roadway from 40 feet to 30 feet.
The project will extend Meadow Drive 3,300 feet to Erie Avenue, tying it in to a burgeoning commercial strip now anchored by Walmart.
Marshall said 80 percent of the cost of the project will be covered by federal funds, with the remaining 20 percent coming from the city, while early estimates of when construction will begin are set for the spring. And when it’s complete?
“It will lead you right to our commercial district,” Marshall said.Contact reporter Michael Regan at 693-1000, ext. 4115.